Steve Lavin returns to St. John's

NEW YORK -- Steve Lavin is back at the helm of the St. John's men's basketball team following "as challenging a week as I've had in my life."

Lavin returned to New York on Sunday night, after spending a week in California with his family following the death of his father. He returned to practice Monday, and met with the media for the first time Tuesday afternoon.

"It was just nice to be back with the team," Lavin said. "As important as it was to get out and spend time with my siblings and my mother because that was the appropriate thing to do given my father's passing -- to allow for the grieving and mourning together with your loved ones, and also to attend to the family business when something like this happens.

"But equally as important was to get back with my team and staff, our basketball family, and continue to move down the path here as we try to accomplish some special things."

Albert "Cap" Lavin died two weekends ago, at the age of 82. Steve, the youngest of six children, received the news in Syracuse, N.Y., a few hours before his team was scheduled to tip off against the ninth-ranked Orange. Assistant coach Rico Hines took over while Lavin made arrangement to fly to San Francisco to be with his family.

Lavin thanked his players, coaching staff and the St. John's administration for "a great degree of compassion and patience" both this year and last year, when he missed most of the season after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"The support that they provided is something I'll never forget for the rest of my life," Lavin said. "And I'll be indebted to them."

Sophomore swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer said the team was happy to have Lavin back.

"He went through a tough stretch," Pointer said. "That's a hard thing to come back from. We wanted him to take some time off, but having him back, it was great. Seeing him for the first time yesterday, he just brought the energy back."

"Same energy, same passion," sophomore guard Phil Greene IV said. "Basically coaching us the same, like he didn't miss a beat."

St. John's lost both games Lavin missed -- a 77-58 defeat at Syracuse, followed by a 72-58 defeat at No. 12 Louisville four days later. The Red Storm did cut a 13-point halftime deficit to five with less than 12 minutes remaining against the Orange, and actually took the lead early in the second half against the Cardinals.

Lavin watched both games, in addition to keeping in touch with his assistant coaches and players, while he was away.

"In terms of where we are in our evolution as a team, I think we still are making progress," Lavin said. "We've just got to continue to get better here and try to get enough wins coming down the stretch, and then in the postseason tournament, to build the resume or the body of work."

With five regular-season games remaining, St. John's (15-10, 7-6 Big East) is on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Red Storm are currently the No. 5 team on the outside looking in, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

St. John's next plays last-place South Florida (10-15, 1-12), on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm will again be without guard Jamal Branch, who is still recovering from a knee injury. His status for the rest of the season remains up in the air.

But, St. John's will have its head coach back Wednesday night.

"It gets better each day," Lavin said. "My focus now is 100 percent on this team, and the season."