NEW YORK (AP) - Steve Lavin isn’t going anywhere. The St. John’s coach may not be on the sideline when the Red Storm are playing but he is in charge of the program.
Lavin was again watching his team play from a suite high above the court at Madison Square Garden, banished from the usual coaching spot by his doctors as he continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery. Being at the game as a very interested spectator as well as recruiting and meeting with alumni are all part of a modified schedule the 47-year-old is following after trying to come back too soon.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” he said to a group of reporters in his suite before Wednesday’s night game against West Virginia. “Naturally now we know I came back prematurely and set myself back.”
Lavin returned to coaching on Nov. 9, just 33 days after he had the surgery.
“At that time I felt it was what I could do. Because of that experience I’m a better patient and a better listener the second time around. It’s the competitive nature of coaches that we can take on any task or challenge. But we’re fragile and life is very delicate.”
Lavin was on the bench for four games in a nine-day span. He said the doctors told him what he was putting himself through was putting his long-term health in jeopardy.
“The most challenging aspect is coaching the games, the adrenaline, the blood pressure, at least the way I coach. I don’t sit down on the bench,” he said. “I have to listen to my doctors. Why would you risk that? With the modified schedule I can still manage the program and work with the team.”
Lavin said he was at practice Monday and he participated as much as he has at any one since the surgery.
He wouldn’t rule out returning to coach this season, but he will tell you he will be back next season, his third in charge of the program.
“The blood work has come back cancer-free and it has really come down to the premature return and subsequent setback in terms of stamina and energy,” he said. “The doctors have advised me to avoid the strenuous aspect of the job which is the out-of-body experience on the sideline coaching the games. Observing, recruiting, evaluating or hosting a player, that’s all within reason in terms that it doesn’t challenge the health.”
To prove that, Lavin told of recruiting point guard Jamal Branch, who transferred to St. John’s last week from Texas A&M.
“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 six-man rotation and that helps to explain the 8-11 record.
Lavin likes what he sees from up near the ceiling.
“Naturally as a coach you always would like a couple more wins. You’re never satisfied with moral victories,” said Lavin, who texts his staff during games, although they don’t see them until after the game is over. “It’s been business as usual and they are young enough to see there’s been real growth. You don’t always see progress pay off with wins, yet the team and individuals make strides.”
Lavin’s wife, Mary, was with him in the suite and she summed up his time up there quickly: “Frustrating. Very frustrating.”
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