The St. John's athletics Web site provides a link to the university's season-long centennial basketball celebration, recalling the careers of great Red Storm players such as Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Mark Jackson and coaches Joe Lapchick and Lou Carnesecca.

Click back, however, and you see the stark reality of today, the continuing struggles under fourth-year coach Norm Roberts.

The Red Storm are 10-13 and in a dogged fight for 12th place in the Big East. That finish would get them to the conference tournament, an event for which they haven't qualified in two of the last three seasons.

To again not be part of the tournament festivities at Madison Square Garden, their home away from home, would be embarrassing and possibly weaken Roberts' job status. He has one year remaining on a five-year contract.

Roberts, who grew up in Queens, is excited about where the program is going. He said his team - with eight freshmen, four of whom started Wednesday night at Cincinnati - has a "a great young nucleus of players" that needs time to get better.

However, fans in New York who remember the glory days, when St. John's basketball was up there with the Knicks for the city's attention, aren't impressed. They blame Roberts for not getting the elite players to stay home, as many of his predecessors did, or losing some he originally signed who then transferred.

Roberts, who had recruited in the city as an assistant coach at Kansas and Illinois before being hired at St. John's, said it's a different world from when Lapchick and Carnesecca coached.

"AAU basketball has changed everything," Roberts said Thursday. "It's why kids don't stay in New York anymore, or Philly or Chicago. Kids start in AAU ball as early as 8 or 9 years old, and they travel all over the country. By the time you're 17, you've been to California 15 times. It's not a big deal to go away.

"This has changed the whole landscape of recruiting for everybody. Coach Carnesecca did a great job recruiting in New York, but he didn't get every player. He'd get a good player from New York who developed and got better while he was here."

The competition for recruits in New York is serious, particularly among the 16 schools in the mega-size Big East. That makes it difficult for mid-major schools such as Hofstra, where Villanova's Jay Wright once coached.

"At Hofstra, that was a great challenge for us," Wright said. "We'd always have a local guy that we thought was going to be ours, and some big-time school would come in from out of the area and blow him away. It's also tough because there are so many New York coaches coaching elsewhere that have the same ties as you do."

Five of Roberts' freshmen are native New Yorkers, including Justin Burrell, a 6-foot-8 forward from the Bronx who is the team's top rebounder and second-leading scorer.

"He's a guy we wanted here," Wright said.

Wright has had his share of success recruiting in New York. He brought in two from the Big Apple for this year's freshman class: guards Corey Fisher of the Bronx and Malcolm Grant of Brooklyn.

Villanova will take on the Red Storm tonight at Madison Square Garden. It will be St. John's fifth game this season inside the World's Most Famous Arena, but the buzz is well below what it was in the days of Mullin and Berry. The team averages a little more than 7,700 in the cavernous building, and reports indicate that it's a money-losing proposition for both the university and the Garden.

Then again, considering where St. John's was when Roberts took over in 2004, there has been steady progress. The school was placed on probation for illegal monthly payments to a player during Mike Jarvis' tenure, and this is the first season Roberts has coached with a full complement of scholarships.

"It takes time, and he's been patient," Wright said. "He's got a good young group. He's probably kind of over the hump now, but it's hard to see it."

Roberts is staying positive.

"Our guys are very talented," he said, "but we're going to take our lumps before it gets better."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or