In a series of fast-breaking events, the administration of college basketball has dramatically changed on the local scene.
In the past two weeks, Norm Roberts was fired at St. John's and replaced by Steve Lavin. Tom Pecora left Hofstra for Fordham. Tim Welsh replaced him at Hofstra. Former St. John's coach Fran Fraschilla has interviewed at Iona.
The changes have created sizzle. "It's an exciting time for New York City basketball at all levels," said Kimani Young, athletic director of New Heights, an AAU program in the Bronx. And he took it one step further. "With what the Knicks have an opportunity to do this summer, with LeBron [James], and with what St. John's is doing with its program, it would stabilize New York City basketball."
That thought was echoed by Leigh Klein, president of Five-Star basketball, a developmental program with close ties to the AAU teams. "We are on the cusp of bringing back the heyday of college basketball," he said. "St. John's is the pulse; it starts with St. John's, and everyone else can ride the momentum and be picked up from it."
New coaches, new ideas. Change we can believe in? Seems so. Recruiting will, of course, be the key.
St. John's has a celebrity coach in Lavin. "It's like when Pat Riley came to the Knicks," Young said. "It instilled a sense of excitement; people are just abuzz. The high school coaches know him, the parents know him, [but] he has to do his job. He doesn't have to bow down to us to stoke our ego to get players. Put a plan in place, put a work ethic in place, surround himself with the right people and New York will help him."
Lavin will have to do more than just BlackBerry his intentions to the AAU community. "I don't think he can just come in as the closer," Klein said. "He has to be visible, out and about. It is critical that people feel like he respects them, be in their gyms and shake their hands. He just can't sit back and have the assistants cue it up for him."
Young and former Hofstra assistant Van Macon have been mentioned as possible assistants at St. John's. Pecora also would like to have Macon at Fordham.
At his introductory news conference, Lavin said he is ready to put on his "gladiator" outfit and march back into the college basketball fray on the court and the recruiting trail. He will have many stops to make.
"It is a different AAU circuit than back in the day of Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson," said Rocky Bucano, general manager of the Gauchos, the city's most heralded AAU program. "The talent level used to be consolidated between the Gauchos and Riverside Church. Now it is pretty much spread out. It makes it a little more challenging for any coach to know the different players."
Lavin's recruiting will be tested. "Pecora, he's not taking a backseat to St. John's," Cardozo coach Ron Naclerio said. "You also have Timmy Welsh not taking that backseat. And schools like West Virginia and Louisville are not going to say, 'I can't get into New York.' He's [Lavin's] got a tough job. Can it be done? The key is his personality, which is very good. He will have to show it 365 days a year."
Welsh is expected to have his former Iona and Providence assistant, Steve DeMeo, helping him. "Hofstra will not miss a beat," Klein said. "Tim is very good and will recruit New York well. Hofstra also seems to find a game-changer every couple of years. They had Speedy [Claxton]; now they have [Charles] Jenkins."
Or they could all go.