03/10/2010 7:08 PM ET
Roberts' future hangs in balance after loss
St. John's coach unsure if he'll be back
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Anthony Mason Jr. had eight points in his final Big East game with St. John's on Wednesday. ()

NEW YORK -- As he walked through a Madison Square Garden hallway on his way to what may turn out to be his final press conference as the head basketball coach at St. John's, Norm Roberts passed a photo of Chris Mullin and Bill Wennington.

The two players were smiling and holding up the 1983 Big East championship trophy on the Garden floor, a reminder of St. John's glory days.

The photograph was in black and white, but Roberts' future is tinged with gray.

When Malik Boothe's desperation 3-point heave came up well short in the final seconds, No. 13 St. John's lost to No. 5 Marquette, 57-55, in the second round of the Big East tournament.

While Marquette advances to meet No. 4 Villanova in Thursday's quarterfinals, no one is quite sure what lies ahead for Roberts and the Johnnies.

Did his 100th loss at the school mark his final appearance on the sideline? Will the Red Storm (17-15) garner an NIT invite on Sunday night? Even if they make the NIT, will Roberts return for a seventh season at the Queens school?

"We always wait till the end of the year," Roberts said when asked if he had been given a recent assurance by the administration that he will return. "We wait till the end of the year and then we'll talk. And we'll evaluate what's going on and see where we are. We'll go from there."

St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch has consistently said he won't address the matter until the season ends, which may or may not come in the NIT or another postseason tournament.

"We all love the game of basketball so whatever we can play in, NIT, CBI...we want to play basketball, that's what we're here for," junior forward Justin Burrell said of a potential postseason appearance.

In the end, Father Donald Harrington, the St. John's president, may be the only man who knows for certain whether Roberts will return, or whether the school will turn to Hofstra coach Tom Pecora, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt or someone else to deliver it from the bottom half of the Big East.

Roberts is 81-100 in six years at the Queens school and has never finished above 11th in the regular-season standings. St. John's finished 13th this season at 6-12.

While Roberts is credited with putting a clean and pleasant face on a program once buried by sexcapades and illegal under-the-table payments, he may simply not have won enough games to keep his job.

"It's life because we're paid to win games," Roberts said. "That's the bottom line in coaching. You're paid to win games and that stuff. But I also think you're paid along the process and making sure things are right and that you're doing the right things."

St. John's features nine juniors anxious to spend their senior years playing for Roberts and they backed him to the hill.

"Once a family is together, I don't feel like you should break a family up because it will just mess things up," junior D.J. Kennedy said.

"I feel like every guy in this room feels like he should come back. I don't even think we consider it as an option of him leaving."

Burrell conceded that the team hadn't won enough games under Roberts, but called the coach a "father figure" and credited the coach with "changing the vision of what St. John's is around the community."

"I mean we've won games. We just haven't won the ones that people really, really say we should win," Burrell said. "But at the same time, we're in those games. We're just not finishing the way we should."

UConn coach Jim Calhoun praised St. John's potential Tuesday after his team got hammered, 73-51, in the first round.

"They certainly have a bright future ahead of them," Calhoun said. "Juniors and seniors, they'll be one of the better teams in the Big East. Certainly top five or six next year."

Marquette coach Buzz Williams praised St. John's again Wednesday.

"If you were to ask our players who is the hardest playing team in the league, they would tell you St. John's," he said.

Roberts has been criticized for failing to bring in the marquee New York prep players such as Lance Stephenson (Cincinnati), Sylven Landesberg (Virginia) and Tobias Harris (signed to Tennessee).

But he said that St. John's never got all the top New York talent.

"Everybody thinks that St. John's got every New York kid. They never did," he said. "They never did ... Ed Pinckney went to Villanova, we got Walter Berry, so nobody worried about Ed Pinckney going to Villanova. Kenny Smith went to North Carolina. We got Mark Jackson. Nobody worried about Kenny Smith going there or Pearl Washington going to Syracuse.

"What we've got to is get the kids that fit us and then when we get them, we got to make them as good as they possibly can be. And then nobody would be asking those questions anymore."

In this last round of recruiting, St. John's lost out on Harris, the No. 1 power forward in the nation, and JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova) and settled instead for 6-6 forward Ronald Roberts of Jersey City's St. Peter's Prep.

Roberts has also secured a verbal commitment from Brooklyn's Thomas Jefferson junior point guard Davontay Grace, a solid if not spectacular player.

There is also a financial disparity in the Big East that impacts St. John's.

The New York Times on Monday reported that St. John's spent $4.7 million on basketball, while getting outspent by football-playing schools Louisville ($8.6 million), Syracuse ($7.7 million) and Connecticut ($6.7 million).

DePaul, Providence and St. John's spend the least on basketball among the non-football-playing institutions, The Times reported.

Asked about the financial disparity in the Big East, Roberts laughed and shrugged.

"That's life, too. It is what it is," he said. "St. John's does everything they can to help our program be as good as it can."

Now Roberts can only wait and see what the NIT, and most importantly, Father Harrington, have to say.

Said Kennedy: "It definitely looks like a bright future for us so I definitely would like to see him come back."

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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