Monday, March 29, 2010

The Wow of Steve

By Tony Mangia


Last call is being bellowed at that basketball dance club called the Red Storm and the pickings are getting slim. Coaches who seemed available just two drinks ago are sticking by their comely, significant others--Billy Donovan with Florida and Paul Hewitt leaving with his sweetheart Georgia Tech. Now, that all the hotties are gone, St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch will have to concentrate on buying shots for the "they're not so bads" and the "butterfaces." He could be left standing by himself in the parking lot.

St. John's went through this whole "don't go home alone" waltz when they fired the disgraced Mike Jarvis and let Hewitt slip through their fingers seven years ago. Norm Roberts was the consolation prize. Roberts cleaned house but, in six years, didn't exactly lead the program to it's high expectations. Why hasn't the university learned from it's past mistakes? Hewitt declined coming to Queens because his family likes it in Georgia and Donovan refused their offer because he wasn't really even available. Shouldn't Monasch and his experts pre-screen applicants before sending out high and mighty smoke signals. Their speed dating style of hiring makes the university seem almost as desperate than it actually is. Pretty paramours sense this despair in a person and it's not attractive.

What is attractive is cash. St. John's boosters have dangled a three million dollar carrot at Donovan; so the money is there for the right person. The transition should be pretty easy too. The Red Storm bring back five starters from this season's NIT team and it gets to play in Madison Square Garden--even though visiting fans seem to outnumber Johnnie loyalists at every game. Even the Garden is getting a little impatient with St. John's box office appeal.

The list of coaching suspects has dwindled through attrition and lack of star power. Fran McCaffrey has signed with Iowa and Seth Greenberg has signed a new pact with Viginia Tech. Boston College's Al Skinner's name keeps popping up but whose name hasn't. There's Rhode Island's Jim Baron and Harvard's Tommy Ammaker as well as all the usual coaching suspects. Skinner is a similar version of Roberts, only with a couple of modest trips to the NCAAs, but he is from the Big East and doesn't stand out like a Donovan or even Hewitt. But now comes the emergence of back burner Steve Lavin into the mix. Monasch has been meeting with Lavin and local New York papers have reported that Lavin has expressed interest in the job. Who knew?

Lavin is currently on ESPN as a basketball analyst. He would bring big name wattage to the St. John's program. Oh yeah, in case you forgot, he coached at UCLA--the Mecca of college hoops. I think the guy can withstand the bright lights of the New York Media. Wooden, Alcindor and Walton are just a few of the names he followed. In seven years, Lavin led the Bruins to six 20-plus wins, six NCAA Tournaments and five Sweet 16s. He runs a clean program and put players like Baron Davis and many others into the NBA. That's a pretty impressive resume.

The two major knocks against Lavin are that he has been out of the game as coach since 2003 and, secondly, he has no New York ties. Two important considerations although the first complaint is bogus because Lavin has his hands on the college game as an ESPN analyst and he is young enough (46) for the game to not pass him by. The second hurdle is over-analyzed. The name of the game is recruiting and nothing says "come to St. John's" like having a coach boasting a successful career at Pauley Pavilion. Lavin did have some local ties--he talked with a recruits Lamar Odom and Andre Barrett while he coached--and there is talk he could persuade old friend Barry Rohrssen from his coaching perch at Manhattan. Rohrssen, the recruiter who basically ran a direct subway line of blue-chippers to Pitt, would be a Red Storm dream. Think about how many great city players he lured to Pittsburgh at poor Norm Roberts expense. Think about all those New York and New Jersey kids coming to the Jamaica campus and actually committing.

A few other determining factors surround Lavin. Does he fit the St. John's profile? What, the losing that has become synonymous with Alumni Hall? Any one who is hired will always be compared to the basically incomparable Louie Carnesseca. Get over it! Tight shorts, traveling calls and twenty five years have gone the wayside. Alumni are tired of hearing about the "glory days." DePaul, another big-time program on the ropes, has been sending flowers and chocolate to Lavin but, I'm sure, the white lights of Broadway are probably the only beacons that can compare with the premiere kliegs of Hollywood. Lavin's slicked-back hair, starched shirts and L.A. smile will be as welcome as Louie's garish sweaters were back in the '80's.


Nice to see Dwight "Doc" Gooden keeping on the straight and narrow. Has a player ever tumbled so low? Maybe Darryl Strawberry. Last week the ex-Met and ex-Yankee was snagged in New Jersey for a DUI--driving under the influence of drugs. This time he crashed with his kid in the car. Maybe he was hanging out with Texas Ranger coach Ron Washington who tested positive for cocaine in a random drug test. It was "my first time," explained the 57 year-old coach. He should have claimed, "a coked up girl in a nightclub kissed me" excuse European tennis players seem to get away with. There is no excuse for Gooden. This time 'Doc' will probably do time in the pen--and I don't mean the bullpen.


The New York Jets football team has signed up for 'Hard Knocks' on HBO. Just what the team needs--more controversy. If I was HBO, I would break down their weekly sports program into mini-reality shows. First, you have the "The Biggest Loser" starring the stomach stapled coach Rex Ryan. Every week fans can watch him shrink in size and blow up at his press conferences. Next you could do a version of 'The Apprentice' starring Mark Sanchez. Let's see if his rookie year was an illusion or if he'll be "fired." Braylon Edwards would be perfect for 'Dancing with the Stars.' I mean, he's a receiver, right? Finally, you could have Antonio Cromartie, the 'Octodad', in "Wife Swap." Imagine the hijinks of a single father scrounging up cash for child support payments and play dates for his nine kids by eight different moms? That's enough for a paternity suit trial every Sunday night.

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