St. John’s continues to add to their 2014 class with this Bosnian forward, but it is debatable whether Amar Alibegovic will see enough minutes to help push the Johnnies into NCAA tournament play.
A year ago, St. John’s was expected to challenge for the Big East title. The crop of five-star freshmen coach Steve Lavin had landed in his first true recruiting class were upperclassmen and ready to justify those high recruiting ratings. However, SJU stumbled badly in nonconference play, and despite a furious flurry of Big East wins, the Red Storm only snagged an NIT bid — yes, it’s the postseason, but considering the squad Lavin had assembled, it was a disappointment.
Now Lavin and his staff are at a crossroads — four players enter the final year of their eligibilities, and both Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa could only spend one more season in Queens. Coupled with the four open scholarships from graduations and early departures, Lavin has quite a large haul at his disposal. Rather than roll all those openings over to splurge on a double-digit class, Lavin sought to fill a few ‘ships for the upcoming slate.
St. John’s has never been a strong rebounding team under Lavin, but the coach needed to off-set the loss of Orlando Sanchez, JaKarr Sampson, and God’sgift Achiuwa. SJU’s strategy was to recruit bigs with soft hands who were capable of hauling ‘boards and providing offensive balance. SJU landed Adonis Delarosa, who was arguably the best big man in the NYC high school ranks, and Keith Thomas, whose main skill (rebounding) is much needed. With those two signed, as well the reported enrollment of Adonis’s brother, Joey, an ex-FIU big who will join the team at some point this fall, it seemed like the Red Storm were done adding players. But then Lavin was curiously absent from the scoring show SJU target Isaiah Briscoe generated at the recent Peach Jam tournament. Lavin, as was reported a few days later, was in Bosnia, tracking a prospect born in the United States but playing for Bosnia & Herzegovina in the U20 European Championships.
Lavin doesn’t often go overseas to scout recruits, but according to reports, Amar Alibegovic — the player in question — was worth the jet fuel. The 6’9″ forward, who holds passports from the U.S., Italy, and Bosnia, spent the past year playing with the Italian team Stella Azzurra. During the U20 games, he averaged 5.1 ppg and connected on 36% of his threes. Alibegovic committed earlier Wednesday afternoon and is able to play immediately, and the consensus is that he can open the floor as a stretch-4.
There isn’t a minutes crunch on SJU’s interior, but it is worth wondering how much playing time Alibegovic will receive in his first season. The Red Storm do need three-point shooters. Perhaps Alibegovic will use his purported perimeter touch to create driving lanes for Jordan, Harrison, et al. But St. John’s also doesn’t shoot many threes — during the past two seasons, only a dozen teams have attempted fewer threes than SJU. So will Alibegovic be provided the minutes and opportunities to make a difference? Marco Bourgault was recruited as a long-range threat, but he barely left the bench. Same with Max Hooper, who had his moments last season (13 vs. Georgetown, 18 against Robert Morris) but also was relegated to the cheering section on many nights.
There were likely numerous factors Lavin liked about Alibegovic’s game, but the numbers he posted at U20 are far from jaw-dropping. I was recently speaking with someone who has watched the action in Europe, and was told the chances of a standout player coming to a U.S. college is few and far between. While this caveat doesn’t specifically apply to Alibegovic, it’s clear that caution must be applied when forecasting the big’s contributions for the upcoming season. It is also understandable why Lavin would want to correct his team’s perimeter deficiencies, and Alibegovic could potentially provide a solution.
Thomas and the Delarosa brothers fit the model of big man St. John’s has sought out this past recruiting cycle, so can a stretch-4 like Alibegovic get a chance to make a difference? Lavin thought it was worth the scholarship to find out.
Matt Giles covers the Big East conference and other programs for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Matt on Twitter @hudsongiles