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.
Lavin’s Return Should Reassure St. John’s Recruits
NEW YORK — Steve Lavin wasn’t planning on returning to the St. John’s sidelines until Sunday, but a series of text messages from assistant coach Mike Dunlap finally swayed him.
“It feels right, come on back,” Dunlap texted Lavin, who was at his home in Manhattan’s SoHo Wednesday afternoon.
So after making the decision at about 3:30 Wednesday, “I showered, shaved, put on my Air Force 1s and went,” Lavin said.
In his first game since undergoing prostate cancer surgery Oct. 6, Lavin guided the Johnnies back from a 14-point second-half deficit to a 78-73 victory over Lehigh in the 2K Sports Classic at Carnesecca Arena.
Dunlap had led the team in two exhibition victories and Monday’s win over William & Mary.
“It was a very challenging game. as challenging a game as I’ve coached in my career, for a number of reasons,” said Lavin, 47, who last year guided St. John’s to its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002. “I didn’t ever feel normal. I just felt relieved when we pulled out the win.”
Lavin made his first appearance of the season at practice Tuesday, prompting freshman Maurice Harkless to respond emotionally.
“When I saw him I was at the training table getting taped, and I jumped over and just went over and gave him a big hug because I hadn’t seen him in a while,” said Harkless, who had 15 points and six rebounds, including a clutch left-wing 3-pointer that tied the game at 64 after St. John’s trailed 60-46. “It’s a great feeling to have our coach back and we actually didn’t even have a clue that he would be coaching today, so that was a surprise as well.”
Added God’sgift Achiuwa, who had a game-high 21 points and eight boards in the win: “I was on the court shooting foul shots [Tuesday] and he walked in, and we all were so excited. We went to him and give him big hugs….I never knew he was going to coach [Wednesday’s] game.”
Lavin said he had spoken with several people who successfully battled prostate cancer, including Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Dusty Baker and Steve Mariucci.
“I’ve actually been texting Calhoun the last couple days,” Lavin said. “He reached out yesterday and we kind of texted as well today and I was asking him when he felt that he was back at full strength and he said it took about three months.
“I’m a little bit over a month now, so there were big jumps in the last two weeks and, for me, that’s when I started to sense that I was going to return at some point, either this week or next.”
Lavin’s return Tuesday came the same day that 2012 recruit Ricardo Gathers of Reserve (La.) Riverside decommitted amid speculation about Lavin’s health, the uncertain future of the Big East and reported pressure to remain in-state and play for LSU.
“That could be a problem when it comes to recruiting with players not knowing if their coach would actually be there when they get to the school,” Harkless said.
“But I think him coming back definitely gives the recruits more confidence that he’ll be here next year and for many years to come.”
After the victory, Gathers tweeted: “Loving the way the johnnies fought back tonight.”
Lavin indicated he just learned about the decommitment Wednesday, but said he wasn’t trying to send any message.
“I hadn’t heard thing about it until my staff mentioned it,” he said. “So I was so surprised or caught off guard that there was speculation or rumors that I was going to step down, or that my health was such that I wasn’t going to return.
“I could see if I was in my late 70s, but at 47 that’s very unlikely if you look at the trends and the empirical date on prostate cancer surgery…
“But the intent wasn’t to send any kind of message. Naturally in recruiting you just want people to know…that I was on the mend and that the healing process would determine my return and that’s exactly what’s happened.”
(Photo courtesy Daily News)
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.