The good news for St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin is that he remains cancer-free after undergoing prostate cancer surgery last October, and he has a clean bill of health to return to the bench after coaching only four games last season. The good news for Red Storm fans is that Lavin's break from coaching was spent recruiting as well as recovering.
Former assistant Mike Dunlap coached a team with six scholarship players and did well enough to land an NBA head coaching job with Charlotte. But Lavin brought in an eight-man recruiting class to go with five returning players, and there's no mistaking the excitement about the improved talent level and depth.
"Now, we're at a nice place in terms of having a full complement of players," Lavin said Saturday while appearing at St. John's "Dribble for the Cure" event to benefit pediatric cancer research. "This is the deepest team I've coached, and I temper that remark with the fact it's also the youngest team I've coached. They're young, but the personnel is at a place where we can be on more equal footing with our competition."
The Red Storm lost first-round NBA draft pick Moe Harkless after one season, but Lavin recruited an impressive front line of 6-9 junior forward Orlando Sanchez, 6-9 freshman center Chris Obekpa and 6-8 freshman forward JaKarr Sampson.
As wing man Amir Garrett said, "The potential of this team is amazing. In practice, going in the lane is hard. You can't even dunk on anybody because everybody is so tall. It's like, 'Man, they're shot-changers.'"
Leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison, who will become the point guard, loves the depth. "I'm glad I'm still in the rotation," he joked. "There's competition everywhere."
Certainly, Lavin's return to the bench is a huge part of the renewed spirit of optimism. "I can tell that I'm closer to being back to a level of health that I was at prior to the treatment," Lavin said. "You feel more energy. I still have to be vigilant, but I clearly feel at a better place in terms of my stamina, my strength and my conditioning."