It was impressive enough that Steve Lavin took over a St. John's basketball program with 10 returning seniors and guided the Red Storm from 13th to third in the Big East and an NCAA Tournament bid. But after the season, Lavin revealed that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 13 months ago and spent last season monitoring his condition.
Before Lavin moves to the next stage of rebuilding, he first must take care of his own health. The 47-year-old coach, speaking Saturday at St. John's inaugural "Dribble for the Cure" event in support of pediatric cancer research, said he will make a decision on how to treat his condition and undergo the procedure within the first 10 days of October before full-scale practices begin with the Red Storm's "Midnight Madness" celebration on Oct. 14.
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Describing the past year, Lavin said the focus was on monitoring his condition through a series of tests, ranging from PSA and MRI exams to biopsies, with the help of an expert medical team at Manhattan's famed Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center.
"I feel good," Lavin said. "After the most recent consultation, my doctors feel at this point that the active surveillance approach is off the table. So that narrows the treatment options to surgery or radiation. The advantage of early detection is that we have these options that can assist in leading to a cancer-free life.
"My father had when he was 60. He's now 81. That helped. Obviously, there have been great advances on prostate surgery and cancer treatment in the past 21 years. I've used my father as a sounding board every step of the way, and I've had the best possible care at Sloan."
Lavin previously was involved with Coaches Vs. Cancer and the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. When former UCLA star John Vallely asked his help in starting a pediatric cancer cure event on the East Coast, Lavin invited him to St. John's. "The spirit today is a testimony to a community that cares," Lavin told the gathering on the St. John's campus. "I'm grateful to participate. We hope it becomes an annual event."
Members of the men's and women's basketball teams participated in the event, which effectively introduced the newcomers on Lavin's roster to the campus community. Junior point guard Malik Stith and walk-on Jamal White, who recently received a scholarship, are the only returning players from last season's 21-12 team.
Lavin's original recruiting class of nine players was ranked third in the nation, but three fell short of academic eligibility requirements, including forwards Norvel Pelle and Amir Garrett, who remain interested in playing for St. John's, and wing Jakarr Sampson, who reportedly decommitted.
That leaves six newcomers, including junior college transfer center God'sgift Achiuwa, who is a junior, transfer sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsay and freshmen perimeter players Phil Greene, DeAngelo Harrison, Maurice Harkless and Sir'Dominic Pointer. Lavin expects to fill out his young roster with walk-ons.
As talented as the six scholarship recruits may be, the Red Storm lacks depth, great size and experience for the rough road that lies ahead in the Big East and a tough intersectional schedule that includes games at Kentucky and Duke. "We have a razor-thin margin for error in terms of injuries or foul trouble," Lavin said.
"We knew coming in that, whether we had six newcomers or nine, playing in the Big East is going to be a great challenge. It will be rewarding to watch the development because they're good learners."
Lavin hopes to bring in another six-man class next fall to match the talent of this year's group and put the Red Storm on good footing. But the recent defection of Syracuse and Pitt to the Atlantic Coast Conference and a potential split between football and basketball-only schools in the Big East raises questions about the league's direction.
"Now the conference has to work to try and create the future of Big East basketball," Lavin said. "That will transpire over the next year. At this point, I know every scenario has been discussed because we're at that juncture where the future is uncertain. However it shakes out, my personal belief is St. John's will be in a strong position to continue as a storied basketball program."