NEW YORK -- Norm Roberts left New York City to start
fulfilling his dream of becoming a Division I head basketball
coach. Now he's back, facing the daunting task of turning around
the St. John's program.
The 38-year-old Kansas assistant was offered the St. John's job
Tuesday morning. Five hours later, he was introduced as the
school's 18th head coach and the fourth in the last 10 years. He
received a five-year contract.
Last December, Mike Jarvis became the first coach in Big East
history to be fired during a season. Assistant Kevin Clark was
appointed interim coach, and the Red Storm finished with a 6-21
record and just eight players, including four walk-ons, after a
string of suspensions and expulsions.
"The main thing is to change the mind-set within our program,"
said Roberts, who was an assistant to Bill Self the last eight
years. "Then we'll have to change the mind-set in the community.
People have to start feeling good again about St. John's. We are
going to get people excited. St. John's is New York City."
especially the high school and AAU coaches, and the best of the
local players weren't staying home to play college basketball.
"It pains me to see guys from New York City wearing other
uniforms. It pains me to see guys winning national championships
that should be playing at St. John's," Roberts said. "We're not
going to get them all, it's impossible to get them all, but there
won't be one kid in New York City that will say St. John's didn't
bust their tail recruiting."
Roberts' only head coaching experience came from 1992-95 at his
alma mater, Queens College, where he compiled a 24-84 record before
leaving the New York area to join Self's staff at Oral Roberts and
moving with him to Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas.
Roberts retained strong ties to the New York-New Jersey area. He got a verbal commitment from Charlie Villanueva a year ago when Villanueva was at Blair Academy (N.J.) and he and Self were still at Illinois. Villanueva decided to attend Connecticut when Self and Roberts left the Illini for Kansas.
He'll have his work cut out for him at St. John's, with only
three scholarship players returning.
"I have one selling point. I have plenty of playing time," he
said. "I have plenty of that."
One player was kicked out of school, one withdrew and four
others were suspended from the team after breaking curfew to go to
a strip club after a loss at Pittsburgh in January.
Senior captain Andre Stanley, a graduate student, was suspended
for academic reasons.
In December, senior guard Willie Shaw was dismissed from the
team after he was arrested for possession of marijuana with former
Red Storm star Marcus Hatten.
"The thing about basketball is that if we can bring a couple of
kids in it can be done," Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca said of
turning around the program he led to 526 wins and 24 postseason
appearances in 24 seasons. "A lot of people have us buried, but
we're not dead yet."
Roberts was one of three candidates interviewed by St. John's
president Rev. Donald J. Harrington. The others were former Notre
Dame and North Carolina coach Matt Doherty and current DePaul coach
Roberts met with Harrington and Carnesecca on Monday night.
"We wanted to get a sense of who would be the best people and
bring them in for an interview," Harrington said. "I was very
comfortable with the three we interviewed, as was the committee who
worked with us, and the challenge became who would fit in the best.
"I worked the phone over the weekend, trying to get to people I
didn't even know and ask them their opinions of the candidates. At
the end of all that, I felt confident Norm had what we needed and
he had the best potential at unifying."
Roberts becomes just the third coach in the 25 years of the Big
East to take over a program without Division I head coaching
experience or by being promoted from an assistant's job. The others
were Tommy Amaker at Seton Hall and Doherty at Notre Dame.
"Norm very much deserves this opportunity, and he will be a
fantastic head coach," Self said in a statement Tuesday. "He's
proven to be one of the very best in our business. He's an
excellent recruiter, he's an excellent coach and he conducts his
business in a manner which any university would be proud."
Self's assistants have done well recently. Billy Gillispie was hired at UTEP two seasons ago and, after leading the Miners to the NCAA Tournament this season, he landed the Texas A&M job last month.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.