Andrew Nicholson (above) of St. Bonaventure.
Steve Lavin–New York City basketball savior, master recruiter, and fortune teller? Prior to St. John’s awful 67-66 to a supposedly down Bonnies program at home, St. John’s coach Steve Lavin called dynamic St. Bonaventure big man Andrew Nicholson out of Toronto a “legitimate pro prospect” who was on “many NBA draft boards.” Then St. John’s gets out to an early 17-4 lead, blows 10 point second half cushion, and the prescient Steve Lavin watches Nicholson drain a 19 footer with 5.2 seconds remaining over Justin Brownlee for the win.
Lavin was upbeat afterward and doggedly refused to address the elephant in the room–that the Jhonnies had suffered a very bad loss. At home, and in front of a non existent crowd–another sign the always positive Lavin refused to take as an omen. Lavin insisted that all of the team’s mistakes vs. the Bonnies were correctable, and that is what he told the team. Last week, an interview with Mike Francesa and special guest, Governor David Paterson–not surprisingly, very well suited to talk radio–Lavin, when asked about attendance issues, refused to declare the program sound. He said the University has seen a “slight uptick” in attendance, but was fairly resolute about the fact that New York is a smart town and that it will turn out in full force for a winner.
When watching the current squad, even with the vast improvement from last year’s staff to Lavin’s, it’s obvious that St. John’s is no winner yet. Even with the addition of California’s 2009 Mr. Basketball, Dwayne Polee Jr., foundering of late in our opinion due to the overwhelming lack of talent. By the way, we have to mention how disappointed we were in St. John’s alum Mike Francesa for his failure to say one word about Polee, St. John’s highest profile recruit in 10 years, throughout the course of the 22 minute interview.
This team may be loaded with seniors, but it is a rag tag crew–an undersized bunch lacking in talent and without a true big man to match up with a big like Nicholson, and without a true playmaker who can push the ball and get it to Polee in the right spots on the floor. A lot of the time Lavin is using 2 point guards simultaneously (Malik Boothe and Malik Stith) to make for the fact that neither can adequately do the job. Seeing Boothe and Stith play with Polee is like watching 2 versions of Chris Childs next to a young James Worthy. It’s painful.
In no way is it Lavin’s fault. Polee, the only promising player on the team, is only here as a testament to Lavin’s recruiting wizardry. Speaking of wizards, Lavin’s insistence on up tempo basketball and full court defense–adapted in part from his UCLA days and the influence of the great John Wooden–are the best strategies for covering the warts at the point guard position and for creating opportunities for Polee. But as Lavin intimated to Francesa and Governor P, this team probably won’t win consistently or big for 2-3 years, likening the progress he will make to Jay Wright’s at Villanova’s, where it took four years to really get deep into an NCAA tournament. Lavin’s stellar recruiting class in 2011 will probably need at least 1-2 years to develop, despite the best laid plans for the University by the best coaching staff to ever stalk the sideline over on Utopia Parkway. Don’t be surprised if St. John’s has a really tough time today as well, against Tom Pecora’s Fordham Rams. Fordham is fresh off an impressive blowout of Manhattan College.
That’s right, America. You better beat St. John’s before it’s up and rolling. Even mid to low majors may have a couple years still on St. John’s. As Lavin said on the radio, quoting special advisor Gene Keady, “Inch by inch it’s a sinch. Yard by yard it’s hard.” We know Lavin is set to take the program miles into the future, and that the future will be well worth these growing pains.