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St. John's is an interesting team, Steve Lavin an impact hire

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We're filling these spaces in the preseason with previews, human interest stories, guess/speculation, and generally chomping at the bit to get it on with some games. I'm trying to hit some preseason contests at DePaul to feed my basketball jones.

And I will be a guest on Hoops Talk Live tomorrow morning at 11 AM eastern, on Raphielle Johnson's show, talking the middle of the Big East and St. John's. Dave from Johnny Jungle will be on there as well.

A pair of preseason noteworthy links:

St. John's logo smallSt. John's, on a list of 25 most interesting teams from Searching for Billy Edelin. The post focuses on how Steve Lavin started to get the itch to be a head coach again while still broadcasting. There is a note at the end about how Lavin's coaching doesn't make the team a contender - recruiting is his stronger suit. This is probably true, though the fan in me has a lot of hope.

St. John's logo smallSteve Lavin is also prominently featured on a list of impact coaching hires. Of course, the article questions whether Lavin has improved in coaching - a valid question, since we haven't seen him coach yet. It won't be easily answered, because he has an excellent staff of assistants (like many coaches do. Remember when Paul Hewitt was a competent coach? ASSISTANTS). And he is probably a better coach than people give him credit for, even if his approach and methods may need to change. But I'd like to posit a few ideas:

  • Was his talent really that good? It's on Lavin to work the stubborn knuckles out of Baron Davis' head, but it's not like he went on to be an NBA champion - he still has curious shot selection, weight discipline problems... he's no all-star. And watching Jason Kapono and Matt Barnes, I was a little surprised they were drafted. Earl Watson speaks highly of coach. I'm just saying... Maybe the idea that he had Final Four talent was a little overrated.
  • It does seem that he wanted his teams to be loose. I read through Brian Curtis' "The Men of March". It's not a great book, but it's an interesting look at Lavin, Mike Brey, Bill Self while Norm Roberts and Billy Gillispie were his assistants, and Steve Alford in the 2001-02 season. The impression that I got was that he wasn't always getting through to his players. Doesn't mean he is a terrible coach, necessarily - means his approach needs to change. (In fact, Alford's intensity seems to have worn on his star players, and that Iowa team really fell short of expectations.)
  • St. John's will HAPPILY take the "underachievement" Lavin had. I know the Pac-10 was easy like Sunday morning back in the day. Half the league should have been a mid-major. But for the rest of the nation, people understand that having excellent talent doesn't guarantee Final Fours or even conference championships. For sure, you can't put Lav on the list of best development/ game coaches - not yet - and his UCLA teams' penchant for turnovers and sloppy play (cataloged on this site) is something he needs to improve on. But if those who snerk at the hire had watched St. John's games for the past 7 years, they would understand.
  • While this may seem snappy, I'd wager that an administration that held on to a coach for 6 years whose build to a contender was glacial, and whose teams' best attribute was getting on the court and trying hard will have patience, much more than UCLA fans did.
I always say that we don't know the truth until we get in the games and the boxscores do the talking.