STEVE LAVIN SIGNS WITH RED STORM
By Tony Mangia
The courtships were hasty. Time was running out. The list of potential coaches seemed to be thinning out. All the metro-area schools were grabbing familiar local names—Seton Hall hired Iona’s Kevin Willard, Fordham grabbed Hofstra’s Tom Pecora and, even that blast from the past and ex-Manhattan and St. John’s coach, Fran Fraschilla, had been seen sniffing around the Iona campus. It was like a New York City version of basketball musical chairs.
St. John’s University, arguably, the biggest suitor, seemed to get that hint of desperation out of its voice. Memories of futile dalliances with Billy Donovan and Paul Hewitt were an afterthought. University athletic director, Chris Monasch, had finally found his soul mate—and he was 3000 miles away--actually, an ESPN studio out of Bristol, Connecticut. Steve Lavin, the ex-coach of UCLA, stumbled out of the gate with long-shot odds but is, now officially, the head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm Basketball program.
Lavin’s signing came with a bang and a posse. I don’t only mean his attractive wife Mary Ann Jarou. At his Wednesday announcement, the new head coach divulged that his “dream team” of assistant coaches would likely include the legendary coach from Purdue, Gene Keady. I didn’t know Keady,73, was even still alive until I saw a close-up of his bad comb-over –or cheap toupee—last week at the Boilermakers Elite Eight game on CBS. Lavin's ex-boss' stare--cold as a Terre Haute frost--alone would be worth the price of admission next season.
The coaching announcement, held in front of 300 administrators, clergy and impatient boosters, set off the most fireworks seen on the Queens campus since…the Felipe Lopez signing. The words “relevant’ and “legacy” are being tossed like Duke three pointers while university president, Rev. Donald Harrington has declared, ”We belong in the NCAA Tournament.” The same words came with the aside, “ And do it with academics.”
Everyone knows it’s about winning. St. John’s has gone out and given Lavin, who has been out of coaching since 2003, a $8.75 million to $9 million contract to bring the basketball program into prominence once again. Lavin may not be the best tactician—he has been accused of not knowing whether a team was showing zone or man-to-man—nor does he have local ties to the ample New York high school leagues but he has shown he can recruit on the west coast. If he can bring in Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, ex-coach Dave Leitao or Manhattan coach Barry Rohrssen—all with local recruiting ties—and Keady comes aboard with his tactical acumen, this team could really be a dream. Lavin’s profile on ESPN—as an analyst—makes him visible to young players and that by hiring a familiar television face, St. John’s is already trolling the local basketball courts and has the attention of talented blue-chippers. Kids who know Lavin from cable would probably ask, "John Wooden, who's he?"
College basketball in this city has been stagnant. You actually have the New York media calling Siena and Cornell –at least they’re in the tournament--local teams! That’s how starved fans are. Don’t even get started on the pros. The Knicks are years away and the other night the Nets celebrated like they won the championship and, in reality, all the jubilation was for “not being the worst team in history!” Sad.
Steve Lavin can resurrect this city while it lies in a basketball coma. He inherits a team with five returning starters and the support of Red Storm fans. He can bring his Pat Riley flair and hair and his Hollywood smile and wife. He can replace the stoic Norm “who?” Roberts with unbridled enthusiasm. Lavin has called the St. John’s program a “sleeping giant.” Now he'd better bring his winning ways and start kicking that giant’s feet.
COACH K, IZZO, HUGGINS AND WHO?
Good to see Eli Manning at the NIT--now known as the NCAA Tournament Expanded Field--and sporting that befuddled sideline look. I thought he only used that at Giants Stadium. That's one more sighting this season than ubiquitous brother Peyton.
The lack of star players in this year's Final Four has CBS desperate for a selling point. If I hear one more analyst compare Butler with the film, "Hoosiers," I'll watch "Semi Pro" in director's cut version. Spare me. Butler has an .800 winning percentage over the past three years and is always fluctuating around the top ten. There's no "Hoosiers" without Hackman or Hopper anyway.
THE VENDITTE RULES
Who cares about the Joba Chamberlain/Phil Hughes pitching controversy. It's all about the rightie/leftie debate of Yankee minor leaguer, Pat Venditte and his six-fingered glove!. Can't wait for the majors to figure out how to regulate throwing ambidextrously. One right, two left, one ... wait, I'm not sure. I can see it now, Venditte throws right and then some rule disallows him from throwing left. He'll look like Peter Sellers in "Dr. Strangelove" trying to hold his forbidden arm down.
From E.R.A. to H.G.H. to E.D.
Roger Clemens may be bringing Dr. Ruth to his next hearing. Already embarrassed by allegations of steroid use, Roger Clemens is being dragged through the mud by country singer, sex tape participant and alleged mistress, Cindy McCready. She claims dirty movies and erectile dysfunction are only some of Clemens' alleged woes but, Roger the Rocket's attorney, Rusty--unfortunately and ironically named--Hardin, claims it is all hearsay.
First it was Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger with his assault charge. Now it is teammate Santonio Holmes on the police blotter for the same thing. Since when did the Steelers start morphing into the Cincinnati Bengals, rap-sheet wise?