St. John’s wanted a name. It got just that.
Sure, it took a name that hasn’t been relevant at thecoaching level since 2003, the last time he graced the sidelinescoaching a UCLA team that had its fi rst losing season since1948, but the school got a name it could stand behind.
Steve Lavin is his name. You’ve probably seen him onESPN sitting alongside Doug Gottlieb and Jay Bilas andDickie V. But what’s in a name ifthere isn’t a reputation to go with it? John Calipari is a name- the richest in college basketball-but his name is usually chased by words of NCAA ?violations at two different schools. Rick Pitino is also aname-one of college basketball’smost respected coaches-but his name is chased by stories of a Louisville restaurantbathroom in 2003 and an abortion he helped finance.
Steve Lavin? You won’t hear those stories with him.
In fact, you’ll probably hear that he’s a lot like the manhe replaced, Norm Roberts. You’ll hear he’s got a strongmoral background and does things the right way. You’llalso hear talks of fi ve Sweet 16s and an Elite 8 appearancewithout a single NCAA violation in Los Angeles.
You’ll hear the man can flat out coach. And after all, that’s whatSt. John’s was looking for all along, a coach they couldpour their resources into without the slightest hesitation-one who could ultimately get the Red Storm over the hump inthe Big East. The school wanted a man who could hold thelocal college basketball landscape on his shoulders andmake New York City nationallyrelevant in the college ranks again.
Turns out that’s what Lavin was looking for, too.
Lavin left coaching for the bright lights and camerasof ESPN after he was fi red from UCLA in 2003 and,though he had received offers over the years, he waitedfor the right moment to return to the bench. He told the NewYork Post Monday that St. John’s was “a unique situationfor me to put the armor on one more time.”
Now his name is associated with the seventh-winningestprogram in men’s college basketball history, and it’ll beput to the test. He’ll have to square off against names likeJim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Jamie Dixon, John ThompsonIII, Bob Huggins and yes, even Pitino, starting this fall.
If that’s not enough, he’ll have to compete against themfor recruits, too. It’s a good thing our society operates in the age of television, because kids are glued to ESPN and are able tosee Steve Lavin and know his personality and get a glimpseof his basketball I.Q.
The coming years will test just how relevant thename Steve Lavin is in college basketball. St. John’shas nine scholarships freed afterthe 2010-11 season, and he’ll have the chance to build theprogram his way-with his own recruits. There has already beenanticipation of the hiring of an all-star cast of assistants,people who know the New York City landscape and canhelp Lavin pluck local players.
That is practically necessary, because Lavin’sgoing to have to learn some names of his own. There’splenty of turnover throughout amateur basketball, withhigh school and AAU coaches emerging annually, and sourceshave told the major local newspapers that the times havechanged dramatically since Lavin last coached.
That is to say that even if Lavin’s got the name St.John’s was looking for, he’ll need to recreate the reputationfor which he was hired in the first place.