Lavin, St. John's Add Six Standout Student-Athletes To Men's Basketball Roster

Head coach Steve Lavin's second recruiting class at St. John's adds 'add depth, size, firepower and some complementary players that will fit nicely into our system.'

May 9, 2012

QUEENS, N.Y. - St. John's head men's basketball coach Steve Lavin announced the addition of six standout men's basketball student-athletes to the Red Storm roster for the 2012-13 season. The St. John's 2012 recruiting class looks to join the Red Storm five-man returning core on the Taffner Field House hardwood this offseason in preparation for the 2012-13 campaign.

To date, St. John's 2012 recruiting class is comprised of: West African guard Felix Balamou, French shooter and playmaker Marco Bourgault, Texas A&M transfer point guard Jamal Branch, sharpshooting Harvard transfer Max Hooper, 2011-12 New England Preparatory School Athletic Council AAA Player of the Year and National Prep Championship Tournament MVP JaKarr Sampson and Dominican-born JUCO All-America forward Orlando Sanchez.

Lavin's squad graduated an unprecedented 10 seniors in 2011. Equal to the task, Lavin has now signed 17 student-athletes since arriving at St. John's in March of 2010. St. John's could sign additional student-athletes should Lavin elect to do so. The spring signing period began Wednesday, April 11, and concludes on Wednesday, May 16. The Red Storm's 2011 recruiting class was rated No. 3 in the nation when completed last spring.

"The 2011 recruiting class provided a strong foundation for us to build upon," said Lavin. "The arrival of the 2012 class will add depth, size, firepower and some complementary players that will fit nicely into our system of play. This class continues to move our program forward and will assist in making St. John's competitive on an annual basis. We are pleased that our recruiting efforts over these two years have yielded a strong collective group."

Felix Balamou • G • 6-4 • 185 • Fr.-H.S. • Conakry, Guinea (Our Savior New American (N.Y.)



"Felix is an explosive athlete with a fierce will and determination to compete at the highest levels of basketball," said Lavin. "His athleticism, slashing ability and defensive prowess fit well with our baseline-to-baseline attacking style of play. Felix has shown marked improvement over this past year. His best days of basketball are clearly ahead of him."

A 6-4, 185-pound athletic wing from Conakry, the national capital and largest city in the country of Guinea on the West Coast of Africa, Balamou came to the U.S. in 2010 and has played two seasons at Our Savior New American School in Centereach, Long Island, N.Y. The Pioneers' leading scorer on a team with eight NCAA Division I prospects, Balamou used his game-changing athleticism to average 16.0 points per game as a senior, to go along with 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals. His meteorically-rising floor game helped OSNA post a 25-5 record in 2011-12, to go along with impressive summer basketball accolades. In 2011 he was named a Top 20 all-star at Hoop Group Elite camp. Following in the footsteps of 2010 predecessor Harkless, Balamou captured the MVP award at the Port Chester CYP in Port Chester, Pa., in March. Balamou earned second team All-IS8 honors after leading Our Savior New American to the Jamaica, Queens, tournament's semifinals in the fall of 2011. He was also selected the game MVP for the PrimeTime Shootout in Roselle, N.J., in February of 2012. Noted for his above-the-rim style of play, Balamou was coached at OSNA by Ron Stelzer.

"Felix is an extremely versatile and athletic perimeter player who can defend multiple positions. He is a hard-working kid who is excited to play at St. John's in New York City," said Eric Jacklitsch, OSNA assistant coach. "St. John's is not only getting a very good basketball player, but a high character quality young man whose going to be an asset to the St. John's and New York City communities."

Marco Bourgault • G/F • 6-6 • 210 • So.-J.C. • Saint-Malo, France (N.D. Prep./Monroe Coll. (N.Y.)

"In addition to being an outstanding shooter, Marco is a multi-dimensional and fundamentally sound basketball player," said Lavin. "He possesses a high basketball I.Q. and exhibits exceptional court sense. His skill set lends itself to both playmaking and shotmaking opportunities. Since recovering fully from a knee injury he sustained two years ago, Marco now has reclaimed his explosiveness and quickness."

Bourgault, a 6-6, 210-point swingman from Saint-Malo on the northern coast of France, averaged 10.8 ppg in 2011-12 for Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y. The spot-up or pull-up shooter started 35 games for the 33-4 Mustangs, firing at a 42.1 percent clip from beyond the arc which placed him among the nation's top 30 JUCO deep threats, and counted 62 percent of his made field goals from 3-point range. He also averaged 4.3 rpg and 2.0 apg, earning honorable mention NJCAA Region 15 All-Star honors and the Coach's Award in helping Monroe to a fifth-place finish in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in March in Hutchinson, Kansas. Bourgault played only one full season for coach Jeff Brustad following a medical redshirt season in 2010-11 while recovering from a torn ACL, so he potentially has three years of eligibility remaining as he enrolls at St. John's.

"This is a great opportunity for Marco and for St. John's," said Brustad. "This means he'll have the time to adjust to the higher level of ball and be a significant contributor for them. Monroe fans know what a great shooter he is and that means he could become a cornerstone for the Red Storm attack. He's a great kid and will be sorely missed around here, but we wish him much luck."

Bourgault attended Cholet Bookir in France from 2005-09. He spent one year at Notre Dame Prep in 2009-10, playing for Coach Ryan Hurd and averaging 18.0 ppg before his ACL injury.

Jamal Branch • G • 6-3 • 174 • Fr.-Tr. • Kansas City, Mo. (Grace Preparatory Acad.(Texas)/Texas A&M)

"Jamal is an excellent lead guard and a welcome addition to our basketball family. His skill, court vision and quickness will give us backcourt depth for the 2012-13 season," said Lavin. "Point guard play is a critical element to success in the BIG EAST Conference and Jamal will be a valuable asset as we continue to elevate our basketball program."

Branch - who transferred in January and will be eligible to join the Red Storm in games as early as Dec. 16, 2012 - played in 11 games for the Texas A&M Aggies in the fall of 2011, averaging 4.2 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. He fired at a 41.7 percent clip from the field and a 33.3 percent rate from beyond the arc, while dealing 28 assists with 21 total turnovers (1.3 ratio). He dealt a career-high six assists in his collegiate debut vs. Liberty (Nov. 9) and netted a career-high 10 points vs. Mississippi State during the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden (Nov. 17). Playing against St. John's in the 2K Sports Classic event on Nov. 18, he scored seven points with five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.

Branch was named the best high school defender in the Class of 2011 by and was rated as high as the No. 47 overall prospect and No. 8 point guard nationally. He joins Sampson, Moe Harkless, D'Angelo Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett as six members of the 2011 ESPNU 100 to don the St. John's Red and White. Branch and Harrison are friends from being summer basketball competitors in Texas.

Branch was born in Kansas City, Mo., before moving to the state of Texas for his high school years. He played two years at Atascocita High School in Humble, Texas, before spending his final two seasons at Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington. During his high school career, he earned four letters in basketball and two in football. Branch was the district's most valuable player, an all-state selection and a finalist for Mr. Basketball in the state of Texas. He averaged 16.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in leading Grace Prep to the state championship as a senior in 2010-11. The second team all-area selection by The Dallas Morning News scored a career-high 48 points against Houston Yates as a senior. He played summer basketball for Team Texas, Houston Hoops and the Houston Swoosh.

"I chose St. John's because I think it's a perfect fit for me," said Branch. "They have a great coaching staff who I feel can help me a lot with my game. Those guys are like teachers in a classroom, but teachers of the game. They know so much about the game. We have a really great team and I think we could compete with anyone in the future."

Max Hooper • G/F • 6-6 • 210 • So.-Tr. • Carmel Valley, Calif. (Brewster Acad. (N.H.)/Harvard)

"Max is a high-percentage 3-point shooter with the size and skill to playmake over the top of defenses. A relentless worker, he seemingly lives in the gym, refining his shot and developing his overall game," said Lavin. "He has played in winning programs his entire career, from Mater Dei to Brewster Academy and Harvard this past season. Max's ability to stretch defenses with his shot will be an asset to our offensive scheme."

Hooper, who played in two games as a part of Harvard's 19-man NCAA Tournament roster in 2011-12, will not be able to participate in St. John's games until the 2013-14 season due to NCAA Division I transfer rules. He will be able to participate in all Red Storm practices and team activities upon enrollment.

Hooper earned varsity letters in basketball at Brewster Academy (2010-11, Wolfeboro, N.H.), Mater Dei High School (2009-10, Santa Ana, Calif.) and Valley Christian High School (2006-09, San Jose, Calif.). While at Brewster during his postgraduate year in 2010-11, he averaged 10.0 ppg on a squad that saw Hooper and seven teammates move on to NCAA Division I programs. Hooper helped Brewster and coach Jason Smith's squad to a 31-3 record that season and appearances in both the NEPSAC semifinals and national prep school championship semifinals.

"Max is a tireless worker and elite level shooter. I'm excited for him to have this opportunity at a top program, such as St John's," said Smith.

While in high school, he was an all-state honoree in four seasons. As a senior at Mater Dei in 2009-10, he was an All-Trinity League and All-California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) selection. Hooper keyed Mater Dei to a 26-game win streak and established the highest single-season 3-point shooting percentage in school history by drilling 49.5 percent of his attempts from long range in his final season. Playing his senior year for Gary McKnight, Hooper completed his four-year high school career with 313 3-pointers. As a junior in 2008-09 at Valley Christian, Hooper was tabbed to the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) team and was named to the San Jose Mercury News all-area team. He was also a three-time recipient of the Scholar-Athlete Award.

JaKarr Sampson • F • 6-8 • 209 • Fr.-H.S. • Barberton, Ohio (Brewster Academy (N.H.)

"JaKarr is a skilled and athletically dynamic basketball player with the ability to influence the game at both ends of the floor," said Lavin. "His ability to create off the dribble, slash to the basket and finish at the rim gives him distinction among his peers. JaKarr has a strong work ethic and is an eager student of the game. His enthusiasm and passion for competing will have a contagious effect on his teammates."

Sampson, a 6-8, 209-pound combo forward from Barberton, Ohio - just outside of Akron - was rated as high as the No. 11 player at his position and the No. 31 overall prospect originally in the Class of 2011. Averaging 14.0 points per game and 8.0 rebounds at St. Vincent-St. Mary as a junior in 2009-10 - the same high school attended by NBA star LeBron James - Sampson played summer basketball for the King James Shooting Stars, named for his hometown hero.

The long, athletic, slashing scorer, noted shot-blocker and prolific offensive and defensive rebounder competed at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., for two seasons. In 2010-11 Sampson was a first team All-NEPSAC performer, leading his squad to a 31-3 record while averaging 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per outing. Playing for the East Team alongside St. John's Harkless and competing against Harrison in the inaugural All-American Classic in Houston at the 2011 Final Four, he scored 10 points on 4-of-9 field goals and added four boards and a steal.

During his postgraduate year at Brewster in 2011-12, Sampson was named NEPSAC AAA Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the National Prep Championship as he the led the Bobcats to a 33-1 record and the 2012 national tournament title in March in New Haven, Conn. The first team All-NEPSAC performer averaged 18.5 ppg and 11.0 rpg to lift Brewster to the No. 1 prep school ranking for 18-consecutive weeks and a top five overall finish.

"JaKarr is a tremendous addition, not only to the St. John's basketball program, but to the entire St. John's community," said Jason Smith, who coached Brewster to a combined two-year record of 64-4 with Sampson on the squad. "He impacted our community with his outgoing, warm and infections personality. He will quickly become one of everyone's favorite people on campus."

Recently, Sampson led his squad to a 130-127 victory during the April 6 Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic all-star game at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. He scored 18 points on 9-of-11 field goals and grabbed six boards in 25 minutes of play.

"JaKarr played well at the Kentucky Derby Festival all-star game, and now that high school games are over, he is excited that St. John's is in his near future," said King James coach Don Anderson. "JaKarr is ready for the next level of high octane competition in the BIG EAST."

Orlando Sanchez • F • 6-9 • 205 • Jr.-J.C. • Nagua, D.R. (Colegio Nueva Luz/ Monroe Coll. (N.Y.)

"Orlando is a versatile athlete who has a diverse skill set for a player his size," said Lavin. "He can playmake, shot make, defend multiple positions, block shots and rebound. Orlando is a selfless team player, with a quiet humility and competitive nature that will benefit our team."

A 2010-11 honorable mention JUCO All-American who hails from the Dominican Republic, Sanchez is a 6-9, 205-pound highly-skilled and multidimensional forward. As a first-year player for Monroe, he averaged 8.5 ppg, an 11.5 rpg average that ranked seventh in the nation and 4.3 blocks which rated third among all junior college players. His freshman efforts led the Mustangs to a 31-5 record, the NJCAA Region 15 title, the District III championship and a best-ever third-place finish in the 2011 NJCAA National Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas. His 10.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 3.0 bpg during Monroe's run earned Sanchez all-tournament honors. Following the season, he played on the Dominican Republic national team that was coached by Kentucky's John Calipari.

Leading Monroe to a fifth-place national finish as a sophomore to earn All-NJCAA all-tournament honors once again in 2011-12, Sanchez averaged 10.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.2 apg and 1.9 bpg on the season and garnered second team NJCAA Region 15 all-star accolades. Sanchez was coached at Monroe by Jeff Brustad.

"Orlando was tremendous not only for our basketball program, but for the Monroe community as a whole," said Brustad. "On and off the court he was one of the best student-athletes we ever had. He embraced the Monroe College community and that affection was returned. Also, as a teammate, he was as good as you could ask for. He was as happy for his teammates' achievements as for his own. We're excited for Orlando and for St. John's. They're getting a heckuva young man."


  • Loading Tweets...
    1 second ago
ST.JOHN'S OFFICIAL STORE St. John's Official Store
Big East logo and link Home I M G logo and link Home N C A A logo and link Home St. John's University logo and link Home