Enter San Man


At last week’s St. John’s Media Day, head coach Steve Lavin marveled at the major improvement he’d seen in seniors Justin Brownlee and Dwight Hardy, and said that, of his players, they were the ones to look out for as the season gets underway.

Neither disappointed in Lavin’s debut Saturday, as each recorded double-digit points in the Red Storm’s 100-42 rout of Division-III Westmont. What’s more, each played to his own strengths, as Hardy scored 15 points on the back of his sharpshooting, going 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Brownlee continued creating matchup problems playing a bigger small forward’s well-rounded offensive role, leading the team with 18 points.

So add that to the list of predictions Lavin’s aced so far.

Since taking over as head coach of the men’s basketball program, Lavin said he’d bring excitement to Queens, and his team drew nearly 2,800 fans for an exhibitiongame. Check. He said he’d bring in big-time recruits, and so far he has signed five

ESPNU Top 100 players for the Class of 2011—with two more having made their official visits to the school Saturday. Check. He also said he’d make this program a winner again, which could only be done if the first two things had been accomplished. Time will tell if that prediction proves true, too—and it won’t be seen until long after this season.

Even though the regular season hasn’t yet started for the Johnnies, many think Lavin was the only piece missing from a

potential NCAA Tournament berth. At the same time, Yahoo!’s college basketball blog, The Dagger, predicted Monday that of the three New York-area teams with new head coaches, only Seton Hall would make the Big Dance.

I have been pretty skeptical of Lavin’s ability to make a dramatic impact on this year’s team, a senior-heavy club that had logged extensive minutes since the players were freshmen. I doubt whether a team so comfortable with each other could learn a new style of play and still keep its cohesiveness.

After all, Lavin also said at Media Day that the team had to cut down on its turnovers, increase its free throw percentage, and take better shots. Those aren’t necessarily things that can be fixed in one offseason, nor can they really be fixed with new drills and a more focused attention to technique. The task isn’t impossible, and Lavin certainly has the credentials to make

the goal seem more than plausible, but it is quite the task nonetheless.

The best barometer of Lavin’s impact on the 2010-11 men’s basketball team is if he leads it to the NCAA Tournament, and while that’s the case every season, it would be a testament to Lavin’s coaching ability if he accomplished the goal with a group of guys he only started coaching just a few months before the season started—a group that finished last season 13th in the Big East—while at the same time securing the future of the program by continuing his strong recruiting.

You want a better litmus test of Lavin’s impact on St. John’s basketball? Watch the team next year. Watch how they are the year after that. See how the program fares when the last bit of the Norm Roberts era has left Carnesecca Arena for good and the Lavin era reallybegins.

   And if things work out as well then as they have so far, the bigger goals Lavin has in mind—the ones involving  National Championships—may be plausible too.