Newly appointed St. John's coach Steve Lavin is expected to coach against UCLA in Pauley Pavilion in the coming season, as the two schools are close to finalizing a home-and-home agreement that would make for an interesting reunion.
"It'll be great to have Coach Lavin back here at Pauley Pavilion and the following year out at the Garden," said UCLA coach Ben Howland, Lavin's successor. "It’ll be fun."
Oh, and what a treat that'll be for the Los Angeles media. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.)
In one of his final news conferences as UCLA coach in 2003, Lavin on the verge of getting fired (students set up LoseLavin.com) continued to stay entertaining. Asked who might succeed him as coach, Lavin answered the question and even offered up Howland as one of his choices.
Yet yesterday, after Lavin was announced as coach, Howland revealed the one piece of advice that the future ESPN commentator gave him:
"Watch out for the media."
Three former Lavin-era UCLA beat writers came out with articles today recalling what had been years filled with NCAA tournament successes yet embarrassments on the court under Lavin, a young coach at the time who was handed to the keys to a storied program.
But sustaining success eluded Lavin, who was personable and outgoing, a charismatic ambassador but one who often gave the impression he did not seem to enjoy the actual work that accompanied his job. Once, when the Bruins took the court for a game against Gonzaga, he turned to an assistant to ask if the Zags played zone or man-to-man. One summer, he left the recruiting circuit to fly to Boston to watch baseball’s All-Star Game at Fenway Park.
At a high school tournament near Seattle, while coaches and scouts sat in the bleachers taking notes on prospects, Lavin watched the games from the side, pedaling away on an exercise bike until he was soaked with sweat.
Lavin gets far too much credit for recruiting top-tier players to UCLA; many of them were Southern California kids (Baron Davis and Jason Kapono, for instance) who would have ended up in Westwood regardless of the coach. And to get those players, Lavin associated with men (Pat Barrett, Myron Piggie, etc) who continually drew the interest of NCAA investigators.
I once asked one of his better-known UCLA players what Lavin really told them during timeouts late in tight games.
Wait, I said, I know: “Play harder!”
The player laughed for a long time, nodding his head the whole time, then added: “One other thing. He’d also say, ‘Run faster!’”
And I know it’s only a matter of hours before we hear Lav chattering away about the deep affection he’s always held for Louie Carnesecca, the borough of Queens, Walter Berry, Louie’s sweaters, Nathan’s hot dogs, Madison Square Garden, Bill Wennington, the New York Daily News, Brian Kenny, Mario Cuomo, the Big East tournament, Rich Aurilia, and, yes, of course, Chris Mullin.
If Lav doesn’t say all this, or a close version of this, I’ll be very, very disappointed.
Lavin, of course, didn't disappoint on that point. As a talker, he rarely did.
As a coach? It'll be a sight to see this time around as well.