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New St. John's assistant Chiles has overcome plenty

In his new job as Steve Lavin's assistant for the basketball team at St. John's, Tony Chiles will have no problem patrolling the streets where he grew up, though it includes a resume of pain that can never be erased.

Family, education and basketball earmarked Chiles' formative years in the Bronx. One horrible event, the death of his mother, could have destroyed that equilibrium.

In February 1989, Barbara Chiles, 42, and another visitor were shot and killed in the family's apartment in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. A third person was wounded.

Police at the time theorized that the assailant was searching for cash from a drug deal (unrelated to Barbara Chiles or her visitors) when the shootings took place.

Tony Chiles was three months away from graduating at Columbia.

"My friends always ask me how did I make it through that point in my life,'' Chiles said. "I say I lost my best friend in my mother through a tragic situation. If I can make it through that and anything else that happens to me, I figure I can survive.''

Chiles was officially named an assistant at St. John's Monday. Lavin is expected to add more staff this week. Oregon assistant Mike Dunlap is the front-runner to be Lavin's lead assistant. Former Purdue coach Gene Keady has been approached to advise Lavin.

Chiles had attended high school at All Hallows, where he was the valedictorian of his senior class, and never thought much about the rough environment of his neighborhood. "Everybody tells me, 'You grew up in a tough neighborhood.' I didn't realize it until I was grown. Some friends of mine would pass away or get caught up in drugs. I didn't realize that was tough because that's all I knew.''

Basketball wasn't going to be his way out; education was. "My father would say, 'Listen, you don't work, you don't play,' '' he said. "My friends would say, 'Tony, how are you getting these grades?' I figured if I'm going to school, I might as well do the best I can.''

Chiles did well enough to make it to the Ivy League, where he earned a degree in political science. The tragedy of losing his mother has stayed with him, though he has made it a driving force in his life.

"I told myself I wasn't going to let her down, no matter what,'' he said. "I live my life trying to make my mother happy.''

Chiles, who is married and has two children, worked on Wall Street and taught at All Hallows before returning to college basketball, where he had assistant jobs at Manhattan, Iona and, for the last six years, Drexel. A big part of his job with St. John's will be to hit the streets and bring in recruits.

"St. John's used to have guys from all different parts of the city,'' he said. "Kevin Williams was from Harlem. Walter Berry was from the Bronx, Chris Mullin was from Brooklyn. Those guys had pride in going to St. John's.

"I heard stories about when [recruiters] went for a visit, [players] would say, `We love you but we're going to St. John's.' I grew up wanting to go to St. John's. I just wasn't good enough.

"I don't think our kids look at it that way. We have to get it back to the power brokers, the high school coaches, AAU coaches, guys in the neighborhood who say, 'You are going to St. John's. I want to see you in the Garden.' ''

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