May 14, 2009
QUEENS, N.Y. - St. John's head men's basketball coach Norm Roberts announced the signing of Justin Brownlee (Tifton, Ga./Chipola Junior College (Fla.) to a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to join the Red Storm for the 2009-10 season.
Brownlee rounds out the Red Storm's 2009-10 recruiting class, which includes spring signee and prep point guard Malik Stith (Hempstead, N.Y./Bridgton Academy (Maine), and Omari Lawrence of South Kent (Conn.) and 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) third team All-American Dwight Hardy of Indian Hills Community College (Iowa), both natives of the Bronx, who signed NLIs during the fall signing period.
"We wanted to address specific needs with this recruiting class. We wanted to improve upon three things - our ballhandling, our ability to shoot and score, and our overall athleticism. With this class, we were able to address all three," said Roberts.
"Justin is an extremely versatile basketball player, who will be able to fill a number of roles on our team," said Roberts. "He is a gifted athlete with an incredible ability to score and create."
Brownlee, a 6-7, 225-pound forward, averaged 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds for Chipola Junior College in Mariana, Fla., located on the Florida panhandle. Bolstered by first team All-Panhandle Conference selection Brownlee and eight Chipola teammates who have gone on to sign NLIs with NCAA Division I basketball programs, the Indians posted a 34-2 record in 2008-09, spent nine-straight weeks ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA poll to close out the season, and finished in third place in the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, falling to eventual national champion Salt Lake C.C.
Brownlee averaged 10.8 points per game and made 84.6 percent of his free throws during the four-game NJCAA championship round (during which Chipola went 3-1), and scored a game-high 20 points in the national third-place game, a 102-70 victory over Connors State, Okla. The week before, Brownlee's efforts in the NJCAA Division I Region VIII Tournament were good enough to earn him an all-tournament selection. His head coach at Chipola was Greg Heiar.
Prior to his enrollment at Chipola, Brownlee attended City College of San Francisco during the 2006-07 season, where he was coached by Justin Labagh. Brownlee was a first team all-state JUCO selection in California after averaging approximately 20.0 points in one year with the Rams.
"St. John's may have gotten the steal out of all of junior college," said Jerry Mullen of Mullen's Roundball Review, a national junior college recruiting service. "He is really talented. As a freshman he dominated JUCO ball in the state of California, and before that he was being recruited by several high-major Division I programs out of high school. Justin is a great kid and a really good get for St. John's."
A 5-11, 175-pound playmaker originally from Long Island, Stith played this past season for coach Whit Lesure at Bridgton Academy in Maine - the same prep school as current St. John's rising juniors Paris Horne and Justin Burrell. In 2008-09, Stith led the Wolverines to a 25-11 record and a fourth New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) championship in the past five years, topping future-teammate Lawrence's South Kent squad. Stith averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 assists in his prep season with the Wolverines. He scored 18 points in the NEPSAC title game, and was named NEPSAC Class A Most Valuable Player for keying the Wolverines to their tournament run.
"We are really excited to bring Malik into our program. He is a true point guard, and he is going to bring a great deal of creativity and ball-handling to our team," observed Roberts. "Malik is extremely tough and is an excellent defender."
Lawrence, a 6-4, 205-pound swingman who starred at St. Raymond's in the Bronx before enrolling at South Kent for his senior year, has been rated a top 25 prospect at the small forward position. He averaged 18.0 points per game as a junior in 2007-08, earning first team All-City distinction from the NY Daily News and first team all-league honors from the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA).
This past season at South Kent, Lawrence led the Cardinals to a 26-7 record and an appearance in the NEPSAC title game, where his squad fell to Stith's Bridgton Wolverines, whom the Cardinals defeated twice during the regular season. Undisputedly the team's leader, Lawrence spurred his squad to a 16-game winning streak during the season, during which South Kent played for approximately two months without a loss. He averaged 14.1 points per game, 6.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds with a 79.0 percent mark from the free throw line for the year. His coach at South Kent was Kelvin Jefferson.
Recently, Lawrence scored 25 points on 12-of-21 shooting to go along with five boards for the City Team in the Jordan Classic Regional game at Madison Square Garden on April 18. Lawrence played a game-high 35 minutes - the most among players on either squad - as the City Team beat the Suburban team, 129-120.
The 6-2, 190-pound Hardy graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx in 2006 after averaging an impressive 39.0 ppg with 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a senior under coach Johnny Mathis. He prepped for a year at the Patterson School in 2006-07, playing for coach Chris Chaney before enrolling at Indian Hills. Over the last two seasons, Hardy led Indian Hills to an incredible 58-13 record, starting 70 career games and scoring 1,163 points in two years. A NJCAA All-Region 11 first team selection in each of the last two seasons, Hardy finished his IHCC career as the school's single-season and career leader in 3-point field goals and 3-point attempts. He made a record 102 3's as a freshman and his two-season total was 173. Hardy was also an all-tournament selection in 2008 after scoring at a 30.3 ppg clip in four games during the NJCAA national tournament.
"We are very excited to be welcoming Omari and Dwight to St. John's. Both have the ability to really elevate our program," stated Roberts in the fall. "Omari and Dwight are both great kids, and athletes who will bring scoring, creativity and toughness to the floor for us."
The four-man class will be added to the 13 letterwinners returning to the court for the Red Storm in 2009-10, comprising Norm Roberts' most experienced squad as he heads into his sixth season on the STJ bench. The 2009-10 Red Storm boasts six returnees with significant starting experience, and returns 97.2 percent of its scoring and 95.1 percent of its rebounding from a 2008-09 squad that won 16 games, including St. John's first BIG EAST Tournament victory since 2003.