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Monday / July 15.
  • Lavin Nearing First Game as Johnnies Coach

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    NEW YORK (AP)Steve Lavin doesn’t look much different than he did when he left coaching college basketball seven years ago to become a TV analyst.

    The slicked-back hair is still there, just combed in a more 2010 style.

    The clothes that never touched a rack are still there, as is the glib style he uses to show off a big-time vocabulary, courtesy of his teacher parents.

    The solid restart to big-time recruiting is there, too, with three highly rated signees for next season.

    So there must be something different about running the St. John’s program than there was when he coached UCLA for seven seasons.

    “I think the one thing that really jumps out is the way in which kids communicate with each other and their reliance on social networking and texting and working from the iPhones or cell phones,” he said Tuesday at St. John’s media day. “Obviously the information age of technology was well on its way when I was fired by UCLA in 2003 and went into broadcasting. It’s amplified now and I am adjusting to that and at the same time you can’t get away from the fundamentals of communication, eyeball to eyeball, in person, that type of connectivity is critical if you are to have success as a basketball team in terms of building the camaraderie.”

    Lavin then showed he definitely has some catching up to do.

    “I do text and I e-mail from my iPhone but I’ve never had the other stuff,” he said. “My wife is better at that. What is it facebook?”

    Sports information director Mark Fratto told Lavin: “We have a Twitter page set up for you, Coach. We just haven’t touched it yet.”

    “Good,” was all Lavin said with a smile.

    When all the electronic equipment gets put away, Lavin has some serious work in front of him with the Red Storm.

    There are 10 seniors back from last season, which ended with the firing of Norm Roberts after six years in charge of the program. There hasn’t been an NCAA tournament berth since 2002, the same year Lavin took UCLA to its fourth round-of-16 appearance in five years.

    “There really are some encouraging signs, the 10 seniors and the leadership they provide,” Lavin said. “They are so galvanized in their pursuit to finish their careers on a high note, to play in the postseason, in the NCAA tournament. So that’s really been a positive.

    “The realism is that we tied for 13th in the Big East last season. There’s no positive spin on that.”

    But the Red Storm were picked sixth in the Big East coaches’ preseason poll, three spots higher than they have been selected in the last eight years.

    D.J. Kennedy was the leading scorer (15.1), rebounder (6.1) and playmaker (102 assists) last season as the Red Storm finished 17-16 overall and 6-12 in the Big East.

    He is quick to tell you the difference in the two weeks Lavin has been running practices.

    “It’s more professional with Coach coming from ESPN,” said Kennedy, one of the 10 seniors. “He gives us more responsibility and teaches us how to be professional on the court and off the court.”

    The lone freshman on the team is Dwayne Polee II, a native of Los Angeles who says he is fitting in just fine as the newcomer.

    “They all kind of look out for me. They’re all like my big brothers,” he said. “It’s been fine so far. Being the only freshman can be stressful at times but a little adversity never hurt anybody.”

    The first game is Nov. 16 at Saint Mary’s. After a home game with Columbia, it’s off to the Great Alaska Shootout. That trip should give Lavin and the Red Storm a good indicator how the season will go.

    “We don’t have anyone on the roster with any postseason experience,” Lavin said. Somewhere during the season we’re going to have to have a breakthrough win or a stretch of games that is the critical crossroads of the season, where your team develops real confidence.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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