ST. LOUIS -- Four years ago, Norm Roberts experienced March Sadness when his six-season head-coaching tenure at St. John's ended. He succeeded in cleaning up the scandal-ridden program Mike Jarvis left behind in 2004, but Roberts' failure to put the Red Storm in the NCAA Tournament led to the hiring of high-profile replacement Steve Lavin.
Roberts still maintains a low profile, but he's in the NCAA Tournament now with a chance to win it alongside longtime coaching mentor Bill Self of second-seeded Kansas (25-9), which meets 10th-seeded Stanford (22-12) in a third-round game Sunday at Scottrade Center.
Since leaving Queens, Roberts has experienced nothing but success, serving as an assistant to Florida's Billy Donovan in 2011-12 before rejoining Self at Kansas, which is where he was when St. John's hired him. If the Jayhawks reach the Elite Eight and meet Florida, it would be nirvana for Roberts, who has coached players on both teams.
"It's been good for my family," Roberts said of the KU move. "My son [Niko] is a senior on the team as a walk-on, so it's a way for us to reunite our family."
Roberts and Self, too, are like family since Roberts was a part of Self's staff for nine years at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas before returning for the past two years. For a guy who was faulted for his struggle to recruit high-end players to St. John's, Roberts finds himself in a very different place now with freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, both of whom are candidates to be the No. 1 draft pick.
"The bottom line with recruiting is it's all about the head man, and coach Self does a great job of selling our program," Roberts said. "We thought Joel would be here at least two years, and who knows what will happen? Joel's growth has happened so quickly. With 'Wigs,' we knew what was going to happen with him."
Because Roberts works with the big men, he's close to Embiid, who will miss his sixth straight game with a back injury but is hoping to make it back next week if Kansas advances. The irony for Roberts is that it was his recruits, the 10 seniors Lavin inherited, who got the Red Storm to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
"Yeah, we all felt that [NCAA] situation was going to happen the year before. We had a lot of injuries to Malik Booth, D.J. Kennedy and Justin Burrell. We still got to the NIT and lost to a very good Memphis team on a buzzer shot. I was happy for those kids when they made it. They came to St. John's when it wasn't fashionable, and they worked very hard to get the job done."
Reflecting on his St. John's experience, Roberts said, "We understand you have to do things the right way, but the bottom line is it's about wins and losses and putting fans in the seats. My experience at St. John's was awesome. They were good to me, and the city was good to me.
"Sometimes, things just didn't go your way. That happens in the business."