The Red Storm's head coach Steve Lavin has been watching his team from afar, sending texts and working on recruiting as he recovers from his prostate cancer surgery.
It's been a frustrating season of recovery for the 47-year old coach. But he has enjoyed watching the team's development from a perch high above the Madison Square Garden floor, including a potential-scratching 78-62 win over an almost-Top 25 West Virginia squad that has established itself as a likely NCAA Tournament team. He and his wife have watched a team with no bench discovering ways to stay competitive.
Lavin said he was at practice Monday and he participated as much as he has at any session since the surgery. And he won't rule out a return to the sidelines this season. Whether he returns to game coaching in the next month or not, Lavin is working on the blueprint for the future of the program. More, below the fold.
Coach Lavin gave an update on his health with reporters before Wednesdays' game:
"The most challenging aspect is coaching the games. The adrenaline, the blood pressure - at least the way I coach. I don't sit down on the bench," Lavin told reporters. "I have to listen to my doctors. Why would you risk that? With the modified schedule I can still manage the program and work with the team."
"The blood work has come back cancer-free and it has really come down to the premature return and subsequent setback in terms of stamina and energy," he said. "The doctors have advised me to avoid the strenuous aspect of the job, which is the out-of-body experience on the sideline coaching the games. Observing, recruiting, evaluating or hosting a player, that's all within reason in that it doesn't challenge the health."
There has been no indication that Coach Lavin is wavering on a return next season. The team continues to develop their style of play and improving their skills under Mike Dunlap, who has the day-to-day task of keeping the spirits and energy of the team up but holding them accountable to high-level basketball play.
While Dunlap has been training the seven-man squad (and the walk-ons), Lavin has been busy on the recruiting side. He is dealing with decommitments from Ricardo Gathers, who expressed concern about Lavin's health and the roster; and guard Darrick Wood, who may be an academic risk.
On the other side of the recruiting ledger, Lavin has brought in an impact transfer, former Texas A&M guard Jamal Branch (more on his impact). Branch adds defense and passing to a team of finishing athletes. A successful recruiter knows how to address the burning questions, of course, and Lavin addressed rumors about his status directly:
"I was pre-emptive. I brought [the cancer] up right out of the gate. I told him I had successful surgery and now I'm cancer-free and that I came back too early and set myself back now and are now trying to make a full recovery.
"He was going to hear speculation, innuendo and rumors from other schools. My inclination was to take that head on."
Steve Lavin has also been working the major high-school level events, including the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, MA and the City of Palms Classic in Florida. He's been a bespectacled presence on event sidelines, watching coveted 2012 forwards Ricardo Gathers (6'7", Riverside Academy, Louisiana), Chris Obekpa (6'8", Our Savior New American, NY), Winston Shepard (6'8", Findlay Prep, NV), and JaKarr Sampson (6'8", Brewster Academy, MA).
Also on the recruiting board are junior college forward Orlando Sanchez, Our Savior New American guard Felix Balamou, and per Five Star Basketball, St. John's may be looking at Lincoln HS forward Tafari Whittingham (who has reclassified as a 2013 graduate).
With the potential for up to six new athletes entering the program next season, a return to full energy and health for Steve Lavin, and an accelerated on-court development year for players like Moe Harkless, Phil Greene, and D`Angelo Harrison, the future holds the promise of big wins... and more Lavin Lines.