St. John's coach Steve Lavin and returning players D'Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene and Amir Garrett spoke with reporters on campus Saturday morning at the school's second-annual Dribble For The Cure event, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Lavin pronounced himself cancer-free and ready for a full return to coaching.
Lavin and the players had some other interesting things to say about the upcoming season. Here are a few highlights:
• Lavin is back, but gone is Mike Dunlap, who coached the team in Lavin's place last season. That's a big loss -- Dunlap played a critical role in terms of X's and O's, even when he was just serving as an assistant. (The NBA's Charlotte Bobcats obviously thought so, hiring Dunlap to be their head coach.)
Instead of bringing in another master tactician, Lavin filled the void on his staff by hiring Darrick Martin (and promoting returning assistants Rico Hines and Tony Chiles). Martin has NBA experience, both as a player and an assistant coach, but is more of a player development guy -- at least at this point. We'll see how much St. John's misses Dunlap starting in November.
(Remember, Lavin does have former Purdue coach Gene Keady on the bench as a special assistant/adviser, and could lean more heavily on him this season.)
"My entire coaching career, I've always wanted our staff to take the approach of gang-tackling. That's the way I was brought up, under Coach Keady and Coach (Jim) Harrick," Lavin said Saturday. "Every aspect of the program, I want my staff engaged and involved in.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our staff synergy -- the range of talents and expertise, the experience that they bring. And Darrick Martin, the most recent addition, has hit the ground running in a seamless fashion. ... I'm pleased with where we are."
• Harrison -- who was overshadowed by Big East Rookie of the Year Maurice Harkless, but had a brilliant freshman season, leading the team at 16.8 points per game and breaking the school's freshman scoring record -- will look a little different this year.
Harrison has grown an inch-and-a-half since last season. "Six-(foot)-three for real now," he said, smiling.
The extra height will help Harrison get his perimeter shot off. But his role is changing, too. Lavin said Harrison will start the season as his point guard.
"He's made quantum leaps in understanding leadership on the floor, running our basketball team as the point guard, and how to get other people involved," Lavin said. "So many good things happen when he has the ball in his hands, and one way of guaranteeing he gets touches offensively is to get him the ball off of rebounds and change of possession, and off of inbounds (passes)."
Harrison spent the summer back home in Houston, working out under the tutelage of former NBA head coach John Lucas, matched up against former Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor (now with the Brooklyn Nets) and current Missouri guard Matt Pressey.
"I feel like if I can go at them every day, I can go at people in the Big East," said Harrison, "because they're just as good."
• Lavin also shared thoughts on his other three returning sophomores: Greene, Garrett and Sir'Dominic Pointer, all of whom got plenty of experience last season.
The 6-foot-5 Pointer is going to play some minutes at point guard as well, according to Lavin: "He's got a great, what I call mainstream push, right down the center of the floor. He has the ability, similar to (former St. John's player) D.J. Kennedy but with more speed, to take the ball off the backboard and accelerate the ball up the floor. He sees things well, and he can play over the top, because of his size. ... He's really taken his game to another level."
Garrett is back on campus, after spending the summer pitching for Cincinnati Reds affiliates in Arizona and Montana. "Amir, because of his time with baseball, had to play catchup," said Lavin. "But he's a quick study and a hard worker, so just in this last week he's had a little breakthrough, both in his conditioning -- you can see it in his body, starting to take on a better shape -- and even his skills and his timing on the floor is better."
Greene is playing through a minor hip injury right now, but has also impressed the head coach. "He's shooting the ball with confidence, he's playing at a better pace," said Lavin. "He's not rushing, he's learning to use his speed and energy in a more efficient way, to get himself open for shots -- on-balance shots -- and also distribute the ball when defenders rotate to him."
As for the seven new players on the roster, Lavin said, "At this point it's the collective energy and the collective ability that impresses me most. And while there are standout players, it's really hard to separate them. ... It's someone different every day that stands out."