Steve Lavin expects to return to sideline
NEW YORK -- St. John's coach Steve Lavin insists he will return to the sidelines for the Red Storm, although he is not sure if it will be this season.
"Yes. Oh, definitely back on the sidelines," Lavin said before Wednesday night's 78-62 win against West Virginia, in an interview session with beat reporters. "But I have to be mindful of the doctors' advisement and doing what's best for my health. Because I'm doing a disservice to our current team and to our program if I don't make prudent choices."
Lavin has not coached the team since their game against Texas A&M on Nov. 18. After undergoing prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6, Lavin returned on Nov. 9 and coached four games before stepping away again, saying he had come back too soon and did not have the stamina to coach in games.
How is he feeling now?
"It's hard to measure -- maybe close to where I was before I came back, the Lehigh game, prior to the setback," Lavin said. "I've increased [my] energy and stamina. I went to Monday's practice and was active and participated as much as I have in any practice since surgery."
But he is going to be more cautious this time around.
"The doctors' advisement has been to focus on a full recovery," Lavin said. "And the game coaching is the only aspect of the job that concerned them, because they had an opportunity to see -- for four games, and whatever that 10- or 12-day period was -- they saw the results, and that I clearly had come back before I was fully healed."
"I'm probably back to where I was energy-wise," Lavin added. "Now the temptation is to think I'm fine, let's go. But because of that last experience, we're gonna take the conservative approach and make sure that I'm fully recovered before I put myself in harm's way again."
Lavin continues to spearhead St. John's recruiting efforts, traveling around the country to try to reel in some of the top high school prospects in the nation. Some people have speculated that travel is more taxing than coaching -- a notion Lavin refuted, in his case.
"The most challenging aspect to me is coaching the games," Lavin said. "Adrenaline, blood pressure, vital signs -- maybe everyone's different? At least the way I coach, I don't sit down on the bench."
In terms of recruiting, the two high school players in this year's senior class who had previously verbally committed to St. John's have both re-opened their recruitment, amidst speculation about Lavin's future. But St. John's did recently add Jamal Branch, a former top prospect who decided to transfer after one semester at Texas A&M, and was coveted by several other prominent programs.
"There's an example, kinda proof in the pudding, that I think whether I had cancer or not, it's still such an attractive situation, in terms of what makes us unique," Lavin said. "We're still able to sign the top prospects and move our program forward, and I have every reason to believe that the future is very bright."
"It's the elephant in the room," Lavin said of the cancer. "I was pre-emptive. I brought it up right out of the gate. I told him I had successful surgery and now I'm cancer-free and that I came back too early and set myself back now and are now trying to make a full recovery.
"He was going to hear speculation, innuendo and rumors from other schools. My inclination was to take that head on."
Lavin led the Red Storm to the NCAA tournament last season, their first appearance since 2002. Only one player from that team returned this season. St. John's plays five freshmen in its seven-man rotation and that helps to explain the 9-11 record.
For now, Lavin will continue to recruit, attend some practices, and watch home games when he can from a luxury box upstairs at Madison Square Garden, as he did on Wednesday night. Lavin said he sends text messages to his assistant coaches, and then goes home and compiles his notes on yellow notepads.
Lavin's wife, Mary, was with him in the suite and she summed up his time there quickly: "Frustrating. Very frustrating."
As for the current team, 3-6 in Big East play, Lavin likes what he sees, despite the records.
"Even this young team, during their struggles, has shown glimpses -- kind of a sneak preview, of the coming attractions," Lavin said. "Anyone who knows basketball can see something special's going on here.
"Naturally as a coach you'd always like a couple more wins. And [you're] never satisfied with moral victories. And yet, I've been in the business long enough to be able to see when there's real growth. And you have a young group that's blossoming right before your eyes."
Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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