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Source: Steve Lavin close with St. John's

UCLA basketball coach Steve Lavin smiles during media

UCLA basketball coach Steve Lavin smiles during media preview day with members of the 2002-2003 team Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002. Photo Credit: AP Photo/REED SAXON

St. John's quest for a big-time basketball coach who can return the program to a measure of prominence is approaching its end -- possibly as soon as today -- with the hiring of former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, a source with knowledge of the search indicated late last night.

Discussion between Lavin and Red Storm athletic director Chris Monasch was described by the source as "very productive and positive." It now appears the two sides are entering the final stage of contract negotiations aimed at tying up loose ends.

All indications are a formal announcement is imminent. Iona's news conference with new coach Kevin Willard is scheduled Wednesday, so, St. John's might be gearing up to move quickly before the New York media's focus shifts to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Lavin's high-profile candidacy, in the minds of many St. John's boosters, might rescue a search process that threatened to degenerate after the school's overtures to Florida's Billy Donovan, Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg either were rejected or went nowhere.

If it came down to a choice between Boston College coach Al Skinner and Lavin, as has been widely reported, then, Lavin's track record as a recruiter might have put him over the top despite his lack of ties to the New York area. It's presumed his reputation as an ESPN commentator as well as UCLA's former coach will help break down barriers with the local AAU travel team community to at least open the doors to top-level local recruits. Skinner's record in that area is spotty by comparison to what Lavin did in Los Angeles.

One of the biggest questions Lavin faces is how well he will adapt to being back on the coach's seat after seven seasons as a commentator since his firing in 2003. Some questioned his acuity as a bench jockey during his term at UCLA. Did he benefit from his time as an analyst in terms of studying other coaches and staying current in the game? It seems Red Storm fans soon will find out.

For another perspective on Lavin from one of his former players, please read today's story by Steve Marcus in Newsday:

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