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Role reversal helped Lavin recruit and become closer with team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Head coach Steve Lavin coaches his player Justin Brownlee #32 of the St.Johns Red Storm against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second round of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Steve Lavin may not have patrolled the sidelines for 28 of the St. John's Red Storm's 32 games a year ago, but he also wasn't relaxing.

Lavin's year was spent on the recruiting trail, while coach Mike Dunlap led the young troops through a tough Big East season. This year, Lavin has returned hale and healthy and his second consecutive large recruiting class at St. John's will play a huge role in the shaping of the program's future. Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson, Marco Bourgault, and Orlando Sanchez headline a group being showered with surging expectations.

But would each of them have chosen St. John's if it weren't for Lavin's new-found availability last winter? The coach has always been a recruiting mastermind - and deciding to allocate his time to recruiting last season could have been his latest coup.

More, below the fold.

St. John's won just 13 games in a season in which the inexperienced, tested, and freshman-heavy team was under fill-in coach Mike Dunlap. Who knows what they could have done with their true leader on the sidelines? But expectations were never astronomically high.

Lavin returned on November 9th for the team's second game against Lehigh, and only coached three games afterwards before taking a sabbatical to regain his energy, to give his all to the team. It was believed his sabbatical would be brief.

But his recuperation from prostate cancer surgery took longer than expected. And Lavin made an important executive decision. He had coached his final game of the season, and was redirecting his efforts with a mindset on the future.

He didn't relax in Soho, dining at Manhattan's finest restaurants with his wife, Mary Ann.

Steve Lavin hit the recruiting trail.

Much of the time Lavin spent away from his young, 6-man team in 2011-12 was spent on the road visiting prospective players. He and assistant coach Tony Chiles seized a unique opportunity to spend more time with some of the seven newcomers that will join the Johnnies this fall, even if that meant being away from the all-newcomer team he recruited.

"We had an interesting reversal. Last year, while most coaches were preparing their teams to get ready to play in the Big East, we were on the road recruiting," Lavin mentioned on Saturday at the program's second-annual Dribble for the Cure event to benefit pediatric cancer research. "And during the summer, when most coaches are out recruiting, we were with our kids."

At St. John's, where the team has also gotten more practice due to changes in NCAA rules regarding practice time with players in the offseason, it only means good things.

"One of the best aspects of my recuperation was being able to work with the kids during the summer time," Lavin continued. "It has given us an opportunity to get to know them better, work with them, and build relationships."

Lavin prides his coaching philosophy on just that, something far more affecting than a crossover or a pick-and-roll. It is the relationships that are developed that make a team successful. Lavin's mentor, the late UCLA legend John Wooden, instilled in one of his successors the importance of a family atmosphere.

"We couldn't have scripted it," he said. "It has been an outgrowth of some strategic choices - how we wanted to utilize and allocate our time, energy, and resources. It really turned out to be, in some ways, to our advantage."

Steve Lavin spent some time with his team last year, coming to practice to help direct. But knowing he didn't have the energy to be at practice every day, he chose to keep his visits to a minimum, not undermining Mike Dunlap's voice and authority with the squad.

Now, Lavin has a fully stocked young team, a collection of young veterans bolstered with newcomers that fill the gaps in post play and playmaking. And with the architect of the roster back on the sidelines, more time together is priceless. The St. John's men's basketball team is once again whole, and hoping to make strides in Steve Lavin's third year.

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