NEW YORK — Moe Harkless said one of the benefits of deciding to leave St. John's after his freshman season and declare for early entry to the NBA draft was he wouldn't have to answer any more questions.
"I was hearing people yelling at me to stay," he said Monday at his news conference at Madison Square Garden when he was interrupted.
"One Moe year. One Moe year. You heard me? That was me hiding behind the bush on campus yelling that," Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said, finally getting a stoic Harkless to break into a smile. "I even tried on the way over here to convince him to change his mind. He didn't go for it."
Harkless, the lynchpin of Lavin's first recruiting class at St. John's, announced his decision after a first and only season with the Red Storm (13-19) that saw him win Big East Rookie of the Year by averaging 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, which put him sixth and second, respectively, among freshmen nationally.
"At the end of the season I had talks with my mom and coach Lavin," the 6-foot-8 Harkless said of the time frame in making the decision. "I came to the conclusion over the past couple of days."
Lavin said there were plenty of talks about the decision that included "healthy discussions and some tough banter." All the talk left Lavin sure of some things.
"He has the confidence, the conviction and purpose in making this choice," Lavin said.
Harkless, projected as a first-round draft pick, was part of the five-freshman class that started 12 games for the Red Storm. The season didn't go as expected for the original nine-man recruiting class. Three of them weren't eligible as the season began and Lavin wasn't able to follow up on his first season at St. John's, which ended with the school's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002.
Lavin underwent prostate cancer surgery in October and was on the bench for only four games before doctors told him to follow a modified schedule that kept away from games.
"I came to St. John's to play for coach Lavin," he said. "Unfortunately the situation didn't allow me to play as much as I wanted to for him. We still have a good relationship and he supports me in this decision."
Lavin said he told Harkless of the players he coached during his 12 seasons at UCLA who made the same move.
"I had Baron Davis, who was a third overall pick, to a player like Jaron Rush, who didn't get drafted," Lavin said.
Harkless, who said playing in the NBA has been a lifelong dream, noted none of that matters any more.
"It's all on me now," he said.
Several comments were made during the season that the 208-pound Harkless might have trouble in the NBA because he is so slight.
"They said the same thing about me playing in the Big East," he said with a smile.
Harkless said he isn't deep into the process of hiring an agent but expects to do so soon. His mother, Rosa, reminded him there are other things ahead of him besides basketball.
"He was straightforward we me through all this," she said. "He promised me he will finish and get his degree. As long as he gets his education I'll support him in whatever he does."
The last St. John's player to leave early for the NBA draft was Omar Cook, who was chosen in the second round in 2001
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company