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Monday, February 21, 2011
Steve Lavin taking city by Storm

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

Madison Square Garden has been rocking lately, and I am not talking about the Knicks, baby! The energy and enthusiasm brought in by St. John's coach Steve Lavin is amazing.

Lavin has done a phenomenal job with the Red Storm. His first step was to get people in the Big Apple excited about St. John's basketball. Do you think he has achieved that? It helps when you beat five teams that were in the top 15 in America in Duke, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Georgetown. How is that for a résumé, baby? Those are five incredible W's!

Dwight Hardy
Dwight Hardy scored the winning basket in the closing seconds against No. 4 Pittsburgh and has been crucial to the Red Storm's success.

Getting that excitement and energy back in the city was the first step. There is now a buzz over St. John's that has been missing for years. The school had become irrelevant in the basketball world in New York and what was traditionally a powerhouse truly slipped. That has all changed in Lavin's first season.

One key has been guard Dwight Hardy, who has been sensational in the past few weeks. He's averaged 26 points over the last five games. He also hit the winning basket Saturday against Pittsburgh after Travon Woodall's last trifecta gave the Panthers the lead.

What a magnificent moment for the St. John's program. Remember, this once-proud program has not received an invite to the Big Dance since 2002.

Step 2 for Lavin was to build the program for the future and get some quality recruits. You have to say, "Mission accomplished," when you look at an incoming class universally rated in the top five in America. I am not saying top 50 -- that's right, top five!

That is a credit to Lavin's ability to communicate and utilize his energy. It all becomes contagious and young men buy into it. His first major class was extremely important since this year's club has so many seniors.

After working with Lavin for a number of years at ESPN, I am not surprised at how well he is doing. He was just waiting for the right opportunity and he spent time learning while he was in Bristol. When the opportunity came, he assembled a very good staff, which includes his mentor, Gene Keady. The likes of Mike Dunlap and Rico Hines have been important as well.

Now comes Step 3, the Big Dance. The NCAA tournament is lock city for the Red Storm, baby! We know they are in with those five big wins; if not, there should be a major investigation. It is time to make some magical moments.

Lou Carnesecca must be dancing with joy because he can now see the jubilation and excitement that is so vital to the city. That energy is crucial in Madison Square Garden and you better believe the Red Storm are back.

Leadership, enthusiasm and positive energy have made all the difference in the world for this program. Last season, St. John's won six Big East games and finished 17-16, including a tough first-round loss to Memphis in the NIT.

What a difference a year makes, baby! The Big Apple is happy to have Lavin there, getting the job done.