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Finding a coach won't be easy for the Red Storm

St. John’s is going to have some stiff competition in its search for a men’s basketball coach. The Red Storm job is just one of 11 Division I vacancies. Yes, 11. Tom Penders stepped down as head coach at Houston on Monday. Fellow Big East schools Seton Hall and DePaul are among the 11 programs with vacancies. Local programs Fordham and Wagner are also on the list of openings.

In other words, the Red Storm may have to step over someone to get the guy they want. Fordham University has commited themselves to finding the right coach and announced last month it has increased its men's basketball budget. That could throw a monkey wrench into the Storm's plans. So could Seton Hall and DePaul, two programs that haven't won big in a while, but have been successful in the past.

Other schools with openings, including Wagner, Iowa, Houston and Oregon aren't likely to have a big effect on St. John's, which is hoping to find a successful coach with local ties.

As for money, it looks as if the Red Storm will open up the check book.

St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch said during a conference call last Friday that “finances are not an issue” in the Red Storm’s search for a coach. Monasch didn’t elaborate on how much St. John’s is willing to spend for a coach, but it’s been rumored the Red Storm is willing to crack the seven-digit plateau to get their man.

But one NBA scout familiar with the New York tri-state area who had been part of the AAU circuit said it doesn’t matter who takes the job. “You have to have the players,” said the scout. “It doesn’t really matter who takes over. If you can’t get players you won’t win.”

St. John’s has missed out on several local high school stars over the last five years, including former Pittsburgh point guard Levance Fields, Villanova guard Corey Fisher and the latest city star in Lance Stephenson. Reports had been swirling for years that Norm Roberts, who was fired last Friday, wasn’t willing to bow down to local AAU coaches.

The scout partially refuted that notion and said: “The thing is these head coaches have to bring in assistants with connections. Someone like [Rice high school coach] Mo Hicks would be perfect as an assistant. He has a lot of respect in the city Catholic League and on the AAU circuit. He runs the Gauchos.”

Bobby Gonzalez, who was fired by Seton Hall last week, followed that philosophy by bringing in Dermon Player. Player is a well-connected within the AAU circuit and helped bring several New York City stars to the Pirates.

As for the assertion that St. John’s will or has consulted with local AAU coaches, isn’t such a crazy thought. “It has happened,” the scout said. “The schools won’t just talk with anyone and they won’t bow down to anyone either. But they know who the major players are and will at least have a conversation.”

Building a winning program won’t happen overnight. Even at St. John’s. It’s going to take a lot to rebuild relationships with the local high school basketball scene.   

“You have to be very shrewd without doing anything illegal these days,” the scout said. “It’s all about winning.”

Current Division I openings: Central Florida, Charlotte, Dartmouth, DePaul, Fordham, Houston, Iowa, Oregon, St. John's, Seton Hall, Wagner.

New York Sports