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.
Call it the Attack of the Assistants.
The Battle of the Backups.
Or the Showdown of the Substitutes.
But when St. John’s visits No. 9 UConn Saturday afternoon, neither team will have its head coach.
St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap continues to coach the Johnnies while head coach Steve Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery.
Meantime, UConn associate head coach George Blaney is running the Huskies while head man Jim Calhoun sits out a three-game Big East suspension stemming from NCAA violations.
After winning 60-57 Wednesday at South Florida, UConn is now 10-9 – 8-8 with Blaney in charge — in games where Calhoun has missed an entire game during his career.
Blaney, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience at Stonehill, Dartmouth, Holy Cross and Seton Hall, said he will rely on his staff — Kevin Ollie and Glen Miller — during Calhoun’s absence.
“I’ll just count on them a little bit more,” Blaney told The Day of New London. “I like that they’re talking to me all the time. I like that they’re suggesting things. I tell them, don’t get offended if I don’t take suggestions but I want them so I can pick and choose.”
On Tuesday, Blaney will coach against his old team when the Huskies visit Seton Hall. Calhoun will make his return at Rutgers Jan. 7.
Aside from the fact that both Calhoun and Lavin are sitting out, they also share a bond in that both overcame prostate cancer.
“I’ve actually been texting Calhoun the last couple days,” Lavin said Nov. 9, the day he returned to coach his first game, a 78-73 win over Lehigh. “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.”
Lavin has coached only four games this season, going 2-2, while Dunlap is 5-3 in the others, including a 91-67 pasting of Providence in the Big East opener Tuesday in which freshman Moe Harkless set a Big East-freshman record by pouring in 32 points.
Known as a master strategist and tactician, Dunlap won two national titles at Division II Metro State in Denver and also served two years as an assistant under Denver Nuggets coach George Karl.
He also served as the associate head coach at Arizona.
While Lavin’s been away from the team, he has been on the road recruiting.
He was at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Meyers, Fla., scouting former St. John’s commit Ricardo Gathers and 2013 point guard Jaren Sina.
With only seven recruited scholarship players on the roster, Lavin said he plans to sign five more recruits in the spring.
But for now, his team marches ahead with the No. 2 man in charge.
And on Saturday, Dunlap will match wits will his fellow No. 2 in George Blaney.
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.