It's one thing to lose games in sports but quite another to cope with the meaning of real loss in life. After spending last week in San Francisco with his family to mourn the death of his 82-year-old father, Cap, Steve Lavin rejoined his St. John's team thankful for the opportunity he was afforded to grieve, as well as for the support he received from his "basketball family."
"It was important to spend time with my siblings and my mother," Lavin said when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon. "That was the appropriate thing to do given my father's passing and to allow for the grieving and mourning together with your loved ones and also to tend to the family business when something like this happens.
"But equally as important was to get back with my team and staff, our basketball family. The support they provided is something I'll never forget for the rest of my life."
Lavin singled out the second-year players in the program, in particular, for their support last season when he coached only four games while recovering from prostate cancer surgery. This season, Lavin took time on Super Bowl weekend to fly out to spend time with his father, who was in hospice care.
When his father died just before St. John's played Feb. 10 at Syracuse, the coach flew to join his family, leaving assistant Rico Hines in charge for losses at Syracuse and at Louisville.
"It's not something you script," Lavin said. "But those things happen in life, and what I'm grateful for is to have such a good group of young people to work with and then such an outstanding staff that has been able to help me navigate through some of these personal challenges."
Lavin returned in time to lead the Red Storm (15-10, 7-6 Big East) against South Florida (10-15, 1-12) Wednesday at 7 at Carnesecca Arena. It's a game St. John's can't afford to lose if it hopes to preserve its chance for an NCAA Tournament bid. In practice Monday, Lavin emphasized to his players that that goal is very much alive and still in their control.
At the same time, through his example, Lavin reinforced the meaning of family and priorities. He said it was the first time in 35 years that he and his three brothers and two sisters all were together under one roof with his 79-year-old mother, Mary, who was married to Cap for 60 years.
"It was a very challenging week," Lavin said, "but there were some blessings and some positive dimensions to it.
Lavin said his focus now is "100 percent" on the team.
"It's actually healthy to get back," Lavin said. "There's a kind of peace or solace with what comes with a basketball team and our journey that we're on."