News broke on Tuesday that St. John’s star forward has put his name in the transfer portal. Could he really leave the Red Storm?
When LJ Figueroa declared for the NBA Draft nearly two months ago, he left the door open for a return to St. John’s. Without hiring an agent or any appearances on NBA Mock Draft’s, fans believed the Lawrence, Massachusetts, native would return to queens for his senior year. Myself included. Figueroa might have other plans.
"The 6-foot-6 Figueroa told coach Mike Anderson he wanted to explore his options on Tuesday, according to a source. It’s uncertain if the program would take him back if he wanted to return, the source said. Figueroa didn’t give any reasons why he was interested in leaving."
This news is certainly startling.
With Braziller’s breaking news, the equivalent of a Woj Bomb for Red Storm fans, Figueroa’s potential departure could undo any progress made by coach Mike Anderson in his rookie Big East season.
St. John’s amassed a 17-15 record and probably should have won more games. But Anderson built a culture and held his players accountable, something that the fanbase hasn’t seen in quite some time.
With the emergence of Julian Champagnie and Marcellus Earlington alongside the play of veterans Rasheem Dunn, Mustapha Heron, and Figueroa, the Johnnies looked like a program ready to contend for conference crowns soon. Now that Heron graduated and all signs are pointing to Figueroa pressing the eject button on the program, Anderson could see his team sink back into the dark days of uninspired basketball.
Yes, Figueroa was indeed recruited by the old Mullin-guard and put his name in the transfer portal last summer, but he ultimately returned and became a focal point on Anderson’s squad. Despite averaging 14.5 points per game, it’s no secret Figueroa bought into Anderson’s “40 Minutes of Hell’ pressure defense with a team-high 62 steals. He became a defensive catalyst for Iron Mike’s squad.
If Figueroa “listens” to the alleged schools (trying to recruit him) in his ear about earning a legislative relief waiver, that would make him immediately eligible as opposed to sitting out a year. He could cite the Covid-19 pandemic as his reason to transfer, considering the five boroughs have been the epicenter for the United States, whiffing on the transfer wire looks even worse.
Monmouth transfer Ray Salnave was in Anderson’s sights. But due to Figueroa’s scholarship in limbo, Anderson lost the Queens native to conference foe DePaul. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 31 games.
Figueroa has been ‘Mr. Consistency’ for a program that’s seen talented players leave too early only find themselves toiling overseas. To think he could join this list is sad. While the door isn’t slammed shut just yet, Figueroa could and should return to the program, with the obvious mending of fences with teammates and coaches.
I believe Figueroa could benefit from another year in college. Anderson and his coaching staff have the tools to unlock the forward’s superstar potential. I might even venture to say Figueroa could become the first St. John’s product to hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft since Mo Harkless in 2011.