The Red Storm coaching staff traveled to yesterday's Big East Media Day led by Associate Head Coach Mike Dunlap and Special Assistant Gene Keady, with player representatives Maurice Harkless and God'sGift Achiuwa.
In the preseason, Achiuwa and Harkless have been mentioned (along with Nurideen Lindsey) as team leaders, so their presence is expected. It is interesting not to see Malik Stith come with them as the sole returning player; but the buzz surrounding the team comes with the newcomers.
The big topics of conversation - the youth of the Red Storm and the health of Head Coach Steve Lavin, who is recovering from prostate surgery. Coach Lavin's recovery is on everybody's mind, and we hope he is recovering in time for the opening game against William and Mary.
What the media is saying, and what the Red Storm players and coaches had to say, below the fold.
"This year, with our youth, we're going to have to be patient. We're very athletic and we can put the ball in the hoop," said [Mike] Dunlap. "With only eight guys on scholarship, we're going to have to be mindful of the tempo of the game and staying out of foul trouble. That is a work in progress and we look forward to that challenge. It will be an exciting year because most people would say by being laddered at the 12th spot in the BIG EAST that we have a lot of advantages playing the underdog role, and we like that."
Said Keady, "He's coming along quite nicely. He's healing slowly. We're waiting on the doctor's prognosis to see when he can come back. He's in high spirits. He can't wait to get back. He needs us and we need him."
His players hope it's soon.
"Even though he's gone, we speak to him every day, so it's like he's there mentally," said freshman guard/forward Mo Harkless.
"[Steve Lavin's] improvement has been remarkable the past 72 hours," said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who stood in for him alongside special assistant/adviser Gene Keady. "That's very positive. If he's smart, over the next 3-to-6 weeks with his recovery, he will fly through."
"We've tried to teach according to the [Vince] Lombardi theory of simplicity with execution. So just keep it simple and don't go too fast, and that's been received well by these young players."
Dunlap also stressed that, with such a thin bench, trying to keep the players out of foul trouble will be "the top priority." The players must move their feet on defense and not reach -- but that's easier said than done.
"If you looked at our recruiting, and the new players that we have -- if you drew a column on defense/offense, you would say that they are more offensively inclined," Dunlap said. "That's the good news. I think we won't suffer from trying to score. But from the defensive standpoint we have a lot of work to do."
Newsday//St. John's rated 12th in Big East
There is no timetable for Lavin's return, but Dunlap said, "I know he'll be around soon. I can tell by his energy level increasing. We are having DVDs brought to his apartment because we tape all our practices. In the afternoon, he'll give me instructions on the building blocks he wants the next day.
But not even the fact that the Red Storm were picked to finish 12th in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll has stemmed this team’s optimism. "Part of me likes it because I love the confidence and the attitude," said freshman Moe Harkless of Queens. "But part of me looks at it like, ‘You can’t just expect that to just happen."
12. St. John’s (21-12, 12-6)
Head coach: Steve Lavin (second season, 166-89)
What you need to know: The Johnnies have a lot of uncertainty. Lavin is recovering from surgery two weeks ago as he battles prostate cancer. He has been missing from practice and there is no scheduled date of return, though that is his secondary concern right now. In his stead, assistant Mike Dunlap has been trying to mesh a team full of freshmen and newcomers with one returning rotation player. It didn’t help that three incoming recruits were declared ineligible before the season.
Johnny Jungle// Gene Keady Brings Experience to Help Young St. John's Red Storm
[Gene] Keady, who must speak to the players through Coach Dunlap and fellow assistant Rico Hines because of his status as a "special assistant," is integral in planning and observing practices, much of which information is passed along to Lavin, as he recovers.
The 75-year-old makes lists of positives and negatives in practice and communicates those to the coaching staff, which is then imparted on the players. He also works with game and practice film.
"He’s helped us a lot," says freshman forward Moe Harkless. "He doesn’t talk much during practice, but he’s real observant. As Coach Dunlap says, he has better vision than 20/20."
See the Baselines series - preseason looks at this year's roster