Midnight Madness is a joyful celebration for most basketball teams and their coaching staffs as they prepare to begin a new season, but the Friday night festivities at rocking Carnesecca Arena also included a couple of sober notes indicative of the uncertainty facing the Red Storm in coach Steve Lavin's second season.
Most worrisome is the condition of Lavin, who was unable to attend the event because he was home in Manhattan recovering from the recent surgical procedure he underwent for prostate cancer. Students in the crowd held up the L-A-V-I-N-W-O-O-D sign that became a fixture last season as a senior-laden team marched to a 21-12 record and an NCAA berth, and they chanted, "We want Lavin!''
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Assistant coach Mike Dunlap told them the coaching staff wants him, too. Then freshman Maurice Harkless of Queens, the local gem in the 2011 recruiting class, read a statement from Lavin, who said: "Last week's surgery was a success. Now my return to coaching duties will be dictated by the healing process.''
Assistant coach Rico Hines, who spoke to the media after the event, said there is no specific timeline for Lavin's return, but he added, "We're going to hold the fort down for him. It's still his practice plans and what he wants.
"He's in great spirits. He's texting a lot because we have a lot of recruits on campus.''
That is a reminder of the other sobering note -- the lack of depth on the Red Storm after three of the nine players Lavin recruited failed to gain admission to school, including big men Amir Garrett and Norvel Pelle and wing JaKarr Sampson.
The remaining six -- junior college transfers God'sgift Achiuwa and Nurideen Lindsey and freshmen Phil Greene, D'Angelo Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer and Harkless -- will have to bond and turn into the "dirty half-dozen'' as they fight for survival.
Those six and two returnees, guards Malik Stith and Jamal White, were the only players introduced Friday night. They won't have enough to scrimmage until the roster is filled out after walk-on tryouts Sunday.
"Those guys certainly would have helped us, but we don't hold our heads down because of the situation,'' Lindsey said of the lost recruits. "We understand that we have to keep working and continue to get better because we have a huge goal we're trying to accomplish this season . . . with the guys we have. It's an unfortunate situation, but at the same time, it's a good situation.''
Asked to explain the huge goal, Lindsey nearly made Hines faint when he said: "Win the national championship.''
Is that realistic? "We certainly have the coaching staff that can get it done,'' Lindsey said. "We've got a great group of players that work extremely hard. I think we have a chance at doing what I think we can do.''
Talk about saying a mouthful. Call it the exuberance of youth. Maybe if the recruits who were in the audience respond as positively as Lindsey did when he attended Midnight Madness last year, the Red Storm might reach that goal in the future. But a .500 record seems a more realistic goal this season for such a young team in the tough Big East.
"They're a confident bunch,'' Hines said with a smile. But he said the coaches plan to take it easier in practice to avoid injuries. "We can't run them into the ground like we did last year,'' Hines said.
The incoming class needs all the confidence it can muster to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. But Lindsey promised that the new group expects to play the same way as last year's veterans. "We're a defensive team and a running team,'' Lindsey said. "We're going to be a pest on defense and a nightmare on offense.''
Sweet dreams. We'll see what happens when Midnight Madness gives way to the dawn of a new season.