A new era has begun at St. John's University, and the man presiding over leading the Johnnies back to glory is openly embracing the opportunity and challenge.
In a press conference this afternoon, Steve Lavin was officially introduced as the 19th head coach of the Red Storm and successor to Norm Roberts, who roamed the sidelines in Queens for the last six years. As soon as he started his opening statement, Lavin connected with the scores of media members on hand; instantly giving the vibe that he wants to be at St. John's and is passionate about the program, something that the Johnnies' vast fan base is eager to witness.
"I think it's important that you're authentic and you're real," gushed the new head man when asked how his passion and desire to come to St. John's will resonate with the Red Storm fans, players, alumni and media. Lavin also hoped that his prospective assistant coaches had "that same level of passion" he possesses about the program. The former UCLA coach had nothing but great things to say about St. John's and its tradition; even comparing legendary coach Lou Carnesecca, who was on hand at today's gathering, to the character of Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," and waxed poetic about being able to share life experiences with the affable coach known to St. John's aficionados simply as "Looie."
In seven years at the helm of UCLA, the 45-year-old Lavin led the Bruins to a 145-78 record and six NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 five times in that span before being dismissed at the end of the 2002-03 season in which he posted a 10-19 record. He then joined ESPN as a studio analyst and color commentator for the network's college basketball coverage, a job he held until signing a six-year contract worth approximately $9 million to be the man charged with resurrecting the seventh-winningest college basketball program in history.
"I think because I've been observing and watching the game, I've been very close to it," said Lavin of his seven-year hiatus; which he referred to as more of a "sabbatical" than absence, going so far as to call it an advantage because he was able to study some of the nation's best programs and styles of play from a courtside seat. "It's enhanced the basketball acumen that I can bring forward to me now in this job at St. John's."
For everyone involved with St. John's basketball, today has brought something that has not been seen around Queens for quite some time; and that is the hope and optimism for success sooner than later, under the direction of a coach that wanted the job and wants to expand the already-rich tradition of a national powerhouse. "I really do feel instinctively that this is a natural fit," said Lavin of his marriage to St. John's. "And with this reception, you can't help but feel that you do belong."
So far, it appears to be a match made in heaven.