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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Tuesday / April 16.
  • Columbia Coach Sees Opportunity Against Johnnies

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    Kyle Smith already has a connection to Steve Lavin.

    Gary Smith, the father of the new Columbia coach, used to live in the same Marin County neighborhood as Lavin’s parents, Cap and Mary.

    The careers of Smith, 41, and Lavin, 46, have also briefly intersected in the basketball world.

    “We worked camps together on the West Coast,” Smith said in a phone interview. “When he was volunteering at Purdue, I was still playing at [Hamilton] College.”

    On Wednesday night, the two men will cross paths once again when St. John’s (0-1) hosts Columbia (1-1) in the first home game of the Lavin Era at Carnesecca Arena.

    Smith, whose team is coming off a 108-74 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore, knows his Ivy League team has a chance at a major upset over a Big East squad picked sixth in the preseason poll.

    “It’s obvious it would be a tremendous win,” Smith said. “It’s a no-brainer but we’re still in the infant stages of putting together a team.”

    Still, Smith hopes his team, picked seventh in the Ivies, doesn’t get too keyed up for the game.

    “Absolutely,” he said. “It’s my job to tell them it’s just another game.”

    Cornell made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament a year ago, and Smith left St. Mary’s, where he was the top assistant, for Columbia in hopes of leading the Lions on a similar trajectory.

    He has several key pieces, including 6-3 junior guard Noruwa Agho, the former St. Joe’s of Montvale (N.J.) and Peddie School standout who is averaging 21.5 points, and former St. Benedict’s and Peddie School guard Steve Frankoski, averaging 13.5 points.

    “Noruwa keeps improving,” Smith said. “He’s an overall floor leader. He’s just becoming an all-around player. He’s fun to watch. I hope he can keep doing that.”

    As for St. John’s, the Red Storm lost to Smith’s former outfit, St. Mary’s, 76-71, in a game that began at 2 a.m. EST Tuesday morning. The Johnnies then took a six-hour flight home Tuesday.

    Lavin put the finishing touches on an eight-man blockbuster recruiting class Tuesday night when 6-7 wing Amir Garrett of Findlay Prep said he would sign a National Letter of Intent Wednesday.

    Amidst all that hype, Lavin will coach his first game in the Big Apple against Smith,  his fellow first-year New York coach.

    “I expect it to be a little crazy,” Smith said. “They’ve invested a lot in his hire and with good reason. Steve is one of the most charismatic guys in the sport. He’s a good person and fun to be around.

    “He’s what St. John’s is looking for, what New York City is looking for. They’ll want that thing rocking and rolling.”

    (Photo courtesy Barton Silverman, New York Times)

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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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