Build it, and the recruits will come

April 15, 2010

Steve Lavin has used his reputation to assemble a strong assistant staff

In the college basketball world, the head coaching profession is a year-round job.  There is no off-season, with no time for vacation, as recruiting prevents many from even sleeping at night.  In the brief time that Steve Lavin has been at the helm of St. John’s basketball, he has already flown to California to re-kindle his LA connects, as well as venturing overseas to take a look at the top European talent.  His most important task, however, has been attempting to assemble a strong assistant staff, which is key for any college basketball team. 

Already on board is former Drexel assistant Tony Chiles, who has been around the New York basketball scene his entire life.  Chiles played his college ball at Columbia and served as Drexel’s lead recruiter for five years.  Prior to working in Philadelphia,  he was the recruiting coordinator for Iona for six seasons and helped the MAAC school win two league-titles.  The South Bronx native has a strong reputation amongst the AAU coaches as six current Drexel players hail from the New York-New Jersey Metro area, including the top three scorers.

“Steve Lavin has picked the brains of everyone in the area that you can….and Tony Chiles was on every single person’s list. He knows the city inside and out and will immediately get Lavin involved with local kids,” said one AAU coach. 

Immediately is right, as Lavin and Chiles recently met with Doron Lamb of Oak Hill Academy, who is originally from Queens and the number three rated shooting guard in the country.  Lamb is expected to make his choice soon, and has narrowed his decision down to St. John’s, Kentucky, West Virginia, Kansas, and Arizona. 

Also on the radar is 6-7 forward Dwayne Polee Jr. of Westchester High in Los Angeles.  On Tuesday, the four-star recruit said he is deciding between UNLV, Georgia and St. John’s. Polee, who plays above the rim with a 40-inch vertical leap, was named the L.A. City Section Player of the Year as a senior, averaging 21 points and eight rebounds for Westchester (32-3).

St. John’s has one scholarship available for next season, and either Lamb or Polee would be better than any recruit Norm Roberts landed in his six seasons. 

JohnnyJungle.com broke a story last week that Oregon assistant Mike Dunlap will be joining Lavin’s staff as well.  Although no contract has been signed, both parties are “very close” and Dunlap will provide Lavin with knowledge of the “x’s and o’s.”  The real issue that may be holding up the deal is Dunlap’s candidacy for the Oregon head coaching position.   Before joining Ernie Kent’s staff at Oregon, Dunlap was offered the head coaching position at Arizona after Lute Olsen stepped down, but did not want the interim label that came with the position. 

If you give me or anybody else the interim label, you’re going to lose four recruits that are high-end. That’s not a good way to deal with things, and I believe in doing things right,” said Dunlap after turning down the offer from Arizona. 

Mike Dunlap also spent two seasons as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets, and won two Division II National Championships as the head coach of Metro State. 

“Mike Dunlap is the perfect fit for St. John’s.  He will make an immediate impact on the current roster with tactical decisions on the court.  Would be another great addition for Steve Lavin and St. John’s basketball,”  said a Big East official.   

The staff will reportedly be finalized with the addition of Maurice Hicks, who is currently the head coach of Rice High School.  Hicks is also the director of the famous AAU New York Gauchos who have produced Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Felipe Lopez, Stephon Marbury, Jamal Mashburn, as well as others.  Former star college players that were members of the Gauchos include Jessie Sapp of Georgetown, Russel Robinson of Kansas, as well as former Pitt Panthers Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon.  The previously mentioned Doron Lamb also plays for the New York AAU program. 

“He hasn’t made it official yet but the word is he is probably going to take that job at St. John’s,” Rocky Bucano said, the Gauchos General Manager. “I do believe he is leaning hard. I’m happy for him.”

Hicks is one of two coaches to win both the PSAL and CHSAA basketball championships. He coached Brandeis to the public school title in 1992 and moved to Rice for the 1994-95 season and since then has won five state titles.   The former star player at my alma-mater Loyola (Md.) would give St. John’s the immediate benefit of recruiting the top players in the city.

Recruiting, or lack there of, was something that doomed Norm Roberts at St. John’s.  Steve Lavin is doing everything he can to change the culture and turn the Red Storm into the basketball power house it once was.  Nothing is more important than building a strong staff, as the top ballers in New york City will certainly follow with elite assistants in place.



  1. that kid from westchester is a monster.. dont know if hes gonna all the way to ny when UNLV already has a decent squad and its close to home… westchester does have a knack of having talent from the LA area though

  2. LAvin can sell him on playing in NY and the Garden as well as playing in the Big East as opposed to the Mountain West Conference. huge difference btwn the two

  3. who would you rather play for Lon Kruger or Steve Lavin?

    Kruger has single handedly turned the program around in 3 years.. they won more games the past 3 years then SJU has in like 10 (not official but close to it)
    2008- Mountain West Champs
    2008- 8th seed in NCAA tournament
    2009- NIT appearance
    2010- finished 23rd in AP poll
    2010- 25-9 record

    the aura of MSG is good…but the Storm making an NCAA tournament or at least winning a Big East title is and will be a fantasy for quite some time even with Lavin at the helm

  4. Kruger is a tremendous coach but Id rather play for Steve Lavin in the Big East…better chance at going pro, more exposure, more National TV games, etc. Id rather play against UConn, Syracuse, Nova, Pitt than against BYU, Utah, Air Force, and TCU. altho you’re right, if I live in Cali not sure if I’d want to move cross-county to NY.

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