Back from almost a year off - a sabbatical, Lavin has called it - Coach Steve Lavin returns with a new perspective and a hunger to get back on the court, back to the teaching, and back to the competition.
In a white Dribble for the Cure t-shirt and the familiar white sneakers, Lavin stood in front of a mob of reporters on Saturday, smiling as widely as he did when he was introduced as head coach of the St. John's Red Storm thirty months ago.
Lavin missed twenty-eight of the Johnnies' thirty-two games in 2011-12, almost the entirety of his second season at the helm. The prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment was physically and mentally strenuous for the then-47 year-old coach.
The timing of Lavin's public assurance of increasingly positive health was almost poetically fitting. On the day the school hosted its second-annual Dribble for the Cure event to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, Lavin proudly uttered the greatest words an inflicted patient ever could.
"All the blood work has been clean," Lavin expressed, sounding as relieved as when he was the recipient of the same news. "I'm cancer-free."
The young St. John's team consisting of five freshmen and a junior college transfer was forced to face the heat of battle without its sergeant, and the effects were widely evident.
Lavin is more than just a coach. He's a motivator, a father figure, and a friend.
As the Johnnies enter a season in which the bar of expectations is placed higher than just surviving the season, they know how important their leader's presence is. So does the leader himself, and he's doing everything he can to make sure the roadblocks stay far away from his SoHo apartment.
"I am continuing to blaze the healthy path. With a regimen of enough cardio each week, yoga, and brisk walking," Lavin said. "It's just about being mindful on the health front by making good choices."
Yes, Steve Lavin was able to use his time to recruit a large class of talented first-year Red Storm players.
But the St. John's family needs him on the court. Not only does the basketball program rely on Lavin to be healthy and present, but so does his wife, his family, and his friends. The fact that life itself can often get lost in the shuffle of the emotions of our daily jobs or school work should never shade the true essentials.
"Naturally, going through the experience of being diagnosed with cancer, having surgery, recovering, having the setback, and now the full recuperation makes you aware of how fragile and precious life is," he reflected. "It does put basketball in its proper light."
Lavin's appearance and sound on Saturday was a stark difference from back in November when he attempted his comeback to the sidelines. It's one thing to say you're more energetic and that you're feeling stronger. It's an another to give off the vibe. Finally, he did.
"Having a sense for my own strength, I can tell that I'm getting close to the level of health that I was at prior to the treatment," Lavin continued. "I clearly feel at a better place."
As Steve Lavin feels at a better place, as will his Red Storm program. Some of the struggles that the young Johnnies experienced a year ago would have been out of the head coach's control, but his full return to practices and the sidelines means better days are on the horizon.
Or perhaps closer.
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