Depending on which publication you read, the St. John’s Red Storm is either getting a ton of preseason hype or is a team that “experts” project to finish in the middle of the Big East Conference this season. Either way, it is widely acknowledge that this Red Storm team has a ton of talent on it. One of the larger questions for them, however, will be about leadership. Or more so, can someone like JaKarr Sampson be a leader.
Sampson may only be a sophomore on a team filled with juniors, but he might be St. John’s best player. Well, it is either him or D’Angelo Harrison. The problem with Harrison, though, is his tendency to find himself in the doghouse or — even worse — suspended from the team all-together.
The other juniors on the team, while relatively talented, don’t possess the next-level ability like Sampson. Usually a program needs their stars to be leaders. Not some run-of-the-mill, rotational guard. Not that guys like Phil Greene IV or Jamal Branch are going to be unimportant or their leadership roles will be lessened because they aren’t NBA talent — it’s just that the voice of leadership usually comes across better when the player voicing their concerns is the best player on the team.
There is nothing about Sampson as a person that says he can’t be a leader. There are no alarming off the court incidents, run-ins with Steve Lavin or an aura of loserville hanging over his head. However, there are certain aspects of his game that don’t lend itself as characteristics of tremendous leadership. Mainly, Sampson’s shot selection — or, really, his lack of having one.
JaKarr Samspon is undoubtedly talented. He currently has a second-round grade for the NBA Draft if he were to choose to declare early entry after this season. His shot selection, however, might make him less endearing to his teammates. Which would ultimately make them not respect his viewpoint of the game or the team’s chemistry.
If Sampson were to continue hurling balls toward the basket with defenders draping all over him, it wouldn’t result in the end of the world. Other, historical volume-shooters have still been able to be leaders despite their love of shooting the ball from all over the court. Usually, though, a position such as power forward doesn’t have that type of player in a leadership role while they are hoisting up more shots (from bad spots on the court) than a Denny’s makes pancakes.
Still, because of his talent, Sampson can overcome his shortcomings as a shot selector if he were to be a positive influence on and off the court. If he can do what Harrison hasn’t seemed to be able to do — be consistent, be with the team and no sulking.
That’s not even a knock on Harrison. He is a prolific scorer at the collegiate level and his style of play doesn’t really scream leadership anyway. It would be nice, however, if he were to be the things that will be asked of Sampson. Harrison would certainly make more sense to be the team’s leader if he has matured during the offseason. Typically having someone with Harrison’s status as the program’s leader would be ideal. Unfortunately, Harrison has been less than reliable during his playing career with St. John’s.
Steve Lavin can only do so much with this team from the bench. Luckily for him, though, the leadership roles can likely be broken up into different situations and formats. Such as Jamal Branch being the extension of Lavin on the court, but Sampson being the team’s leader in the locker room and off the hardwood. Regardless, the leadership role needs to be filled by someone — even if it is multiple people.
In a perfect world the Red Storm wouldn’t need a sophomore to be the main man in charge of all things Johnnies. With Harrison’s history as an aloof type of person, coupled with the other upperclassmen being less than world beaters, makes having Sampson as a leader almost a need from the team and something he might have “earned” by default.
There does happen to be a funny thing about leadership, though. The success of a leader is usually gauged by the team’s success. So, ultimately, Sampson — or whoever is deemed the leader — will only be viewed as a failure or a success as a leader if the Red Storm were to play well. Something that I don’t think is unrealistic for this season.
Joseph is the editor of Storm The Paint. Follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone