Riverside’s Gathers commits to St. John’s

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011



RESERVE — It didn’t take long after Riverside wrapped up their state semifinal victory for reporters to start asking phenom center Ricardo Gathers “the question”.

“Have you decided where you’re going to sign?”

Gathers said that no, at the time he hadn’t, that his answer would come in the future and likely later in the year.

The future is now.

Gathers has committed to St. John’s, taking his 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame to a place that seems to fit his style — the rough and rugged Big East conference.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the Big East. When it comes to college basketball, it’s as tough as it gets,” he said.

He chose the Red Storm over a slate that reportedly included LSU, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, California, Syracuse, Connecticut and Baylor.

“We knew he was really liking St. John’s,” said Riverside basketball coach Timmy Byrd. “The decision came a lot sooner than any of us expected, really.”

Gathers said the St. John’s wasn’t a major consideration early, but the more information he gathers on the school, the more set he was on it being his next destination.

“I really did my research on St. John,” he said. “Last year, when we started, we’d bring them up but not really pay them serious mind … but I paid attention to them all year and I really like their style. And, you know, you get to play at (Madison Square) Garden.”

Gathers comes off of a sensational year, one that ranks among the best junior campaigns in the state’s history. He became only the second junior ever to capture the title of Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball. He was named Class 2A’s Outstanding Player for the season and for the state title game. He was also named the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year. And, of course, he helped lead Riverside to its second consecutive state basketball championship. For Gathers, it was his third title in three years, the first coming at the now-defunct Reserve Christian.

The numbers tell an impressive story, but only part of it. He averaged 20.7 points per game, 16.2 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals, an all-around stat-stuffing performance made possible by the big man’s versatility. He played both at center and on the wing, making it exceedingly difficult for teams to take him away with double teams and by packing the lane.

Byrd said that Gathers made the choice before taking any official visits, but an unofficial visit to St. John’s campus wowed the senior.

“He likes the coaching staff, he likes their style of play, and he’s got an infatuation with New York, he really likes it. He feels like it’s a good fit, and all we want is for Rico to be happy, to be at the right place and to find the right fit for him.”

For Gathers, the situation was right both athletically and academically.

“St. John has a rich basketball tradition, but on the academic side, they have a very good business school, which is what I’ll be studying,” he said. “That was a big consideration.”

Gathers is considered the state’s most sought after player. He is rated as the 34th best prospect in the nation by Rivals.com and the No. 11 power forward, while he is considered the 43rd top prospect by ESPNU.

Byrd said that he felt Gathers’ early commitment may have come in part to avoid further distractions, and that the constant ongoing process has been a weary one for his star.

“The phone just does not stop ringing,” said Byrd.

“I think he was getting tired of the process. I can understand, from his standpoint, once you feel like you’ve found your school, then you don’t want to wait.”

Said Gathers, “It definitely gives me a chance to prepare myself better for the season and for the next level.”

St. John’s is coached by Steve Lavin, the former UCLA coach who in his first year with the school guided the Red Storm to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

“He showed a lot of loyalty to his seniors. He could have taken scholarships away from some of those 10 seniors, but he went with what he had.

“And they were in the Top 15 at one point and got back into the tournament.”

Admittedly, Byrd said that “selfishly” he and others in the RA community were hoping to see him sign with LSU, but that if Gathers was pleased with his decision, then he would be as well.

“We’d of course love to see him play (at LSU) so we can watch him play,” said Byrd. “But he felt comfortable enough with St. John’s to commit. They do seem like a team on the rise, there’s no doubt about that.”