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Steve Lavin, the high risk that led to big dividends

No more transfers?

No more last-minute recruits?

Ok. Deep breath. With so much drama 'round the S-J-U (or the S-T-J if you prefer, as sung in Snoop Dogg voice) there has been a lot to keep a writer about things Johnnie-related off track.

So we're going back to a few in-depth looks at the last St. John's season and the coming one. And before we get back into the Red Storm in Review posts, let's turn back the clock to a pair of risky moves for the program that paid stunning dividends. First, a look at the hiring of Steve Lavin in the first place. And second, we'll look at the personnel decisions that vaulted the Storm into the top half of the Big East.

And then we'll dig back into the player reviews in the Red Storm in Review posts and we'll take some peeks at what's missing for the Big East competition in the Mind the Gap posts.

For the Red Storm fans, knowing that Norm Roberts would no longer patrol the sidelines was a deep relief. He had become a lightning rod for many things that had gone wrong with the program - some of those issues were his fault, some were the constraints he inherited with the job. But when the talk soon turned to retreads who generally hadn't done much - Paul Hewitt, Seth Greenberg, and Al Skinner - it looked as if the St. John's brain trust would make a conservative, uninspiring decision, leaving the program in the ditch with the wheels spinning.

But after Paul Hewitt's rejection of the Red Storm's sweet "come home" overtures...

They popped up with Steve Lavin.

Steve Lavin's name, to be frank, was coaching mud. He wasn't just a retread in some people's minds, he was a retread who failed miserably with the greatest program known to God and man (UCLA) and had been out of the game for seven years. It was like tapping the former sherriff who had retired to a quiet life selling hats and suits and working on the town's council to strap the holster back on, hoping he still has a little left in the tank. 

The choice seemed ridiculous in some ways. It was certainly risky. So many questions surrounded Coach Lavin; the list of publicly known/ assumed negatives about Steve Lavin went on. And I had some questions as well about his style. But the bold move to hire a coach who had been panned by popular opinion could work, but only if:

  • The team was effective at forcing turnovers
  • The team could be more effective inside the arc
  • The Red Storm could build recruiting contacts in New York and nationally, and be mentioned by top players

By those measures, and by wins and losses, and by the first NCAA Tournament berth since 2002, I would say the hire has been a success so far.

The Red Storm got into Steve Lavin's more aggressive style. In 2010, the Johnnies forced turnovers on 18.7% of opponents' possessions, which was ninth in the league. In 2011, that rate topped the league at 23.4.

The Red Storm took their poor shooting from everywhere and created a style that led to more made 2-pointers (45% in conference in 2010; 47.9% in conference in 2011) and a sparkling rate of free throws drawn as a percentage of shots taken (2010: 31.5%; 2011: 46.4%) (2010: 18.7; 2011: 23.4).

Lavin's incoming recruiting class for 2011 is incredible, one of the top 5 recruiting classes in the country.

There's a lot of history left to write on Steve Lavin's tenure as St. John's coach, for sure. Who knows how the new players will mesh, or if Lavin can instill discipline and cohesion in them through a ridiculously tough schedule. But so far, the move to bring in a coach who was disliked by so many, a coach with few ties to the east, has paid off in a big way. Nice move to accelerate getting back to relevancy, St. John's.

A toast.