Lavin in spotlight at Big East Media Day

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
3:27
PM ET
The Steve Lavin comeback tour continued Wednesday, as the St. John's coach worked the room at Big East Media Day at the New York Athletic Club.

Lavin was absent from this event one year ago, after undergoing surgery to treat prostate cancer just two weeks before.

"Cancer-free, and feel 100 percent better than I did at this time last year," Lavin said Wednesday. "And probably 75 percent, in terms of where I'd like to be in terms of stamina. But that's natural -- that's a normal [amount] for this stage. It's pretty common."

Lavin missed almost all of last season -- returning for four games in November, but then stepping away again for the duration, feeling he had come back too soon.

The coach reflected on that decision Wednesday. "I wasn't gonna be able to coach the team, fully recuperate, and sign eight players," Lavin said. "So we chose two of the three that we felt would (best) move the program forward -- which was to fully recuperate and focus on my health, and then to focus on a strong recruiting class."

He did add eight new players -- including forward JaKarr Sampson, center Chris Obekpa and guard Jamal Branch -- all ranked among the ESPN 100 as high school seniors. He has four returning starters, including guard D'Angelo Harrison, who was named to the preseason All-Big East second team on Wednesday. Yet St. John's was picked to finish 10th in the 15-team conference in the preseason coaches poll.

"I think where we're picked at this point makes sense, it's logical -- because coaches, members of the media who follow our team, understand how difficult it is to win big when your roster is dominated by underclassmen," Lavin said. "So naturally, because of our youth, people are picking us toward the bottom of the conference."

"We're very enthused about our roster, in terms of personnel and the complementary pieces," Lavin added. "But we're also realistic and we understand there's a maturation process. ... What will determine whether we have a successful season will be how quickly we mature, come of age, and learn to do the things that it takes to be successful at this level."

With so many freshmen and sophomores on the team, Lavin said he will try to simulate game conditions in practice as much as possible in the weeks leading up the Red Storm's regular season opener against Detroit on Nov. 13. That includes having referees present, wearing game uniforms and turning on the scoreboards.

"We'll get to the point even where we have a pregame talk in the locker room -- pregame meal, pregame talk in the locker room, then we'll have our position meetings which we do, and then we'll take the court," Lavin said. "That way we get 15 to 20 games in before we've ever tipped it up against Detroit."

He hasn't chosen a starting lineup, but plans to take advantage of his team's depth -- a stark change from last season, when the Red Storm had a six-man rotation down the stretch.

"If we stay injury-free, I think we'll have the ability to rotate fresh players onto the court, and as a result of our style of play, we could wear down opponents in a cumulative fashion over the course of the game," Lavin said. "We want a baseline-to-baseline attacking style of basketball."

Harrison, who averaged 16.8 points per game last season and broke the school's freshman scoring record, plans to prove some people wrong.

"It was lower than I thought," said Harrison, when asked about St. John's ranking in the preseason poll. "But definitely motivation for all of us, cause we're definitely gonna be better than 10th in the Big East."

The Big East did receive a record 11 bids to the NCAA tournament just two seasons ago. But St. John's can't count on that happening again.

The Big Dance, Lavin said, remains the target. "Every year our goal is to make the NCAA tournament," Lavin said. "And that's the way it should be at St. John's."
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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