St. John's readies for life without Lavin

Steve Lavin, recovering from prostate cancer surgery, isn't expected to be on the sideline Tuesday. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- On the day before St. John's puts on the uniforms and play a basketball game for the first time this season, the players were thinking about a person who likely won't be with them on Tuesday.

"We were even kinda talking about it today," freshman guard D'Angelo Harrison said. "Lav's not here. Let's show him that we can do something."

Harrison was referring, of course, to head coach Steve Lavin, who is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Lavin has been away from the team since undergoing the surgery on Oct. 6, and is not expected to be on the sideline Tuesday night when the Red Storm play their first of two exhibition games, hosting C.W. Post at Carnesecca Arena.

"I'd be surprised [if Lavin's there]," said assistant coach Tony Chiles, who met with the media Tuesday afternoon in Lavin's place. "I would say, no. But if he showed up, I don't think anyone on the staff would be like, 'Wow.'"

Fellow assistant Mike Dunlap has been in charge in Lavin's absence, with Lavin receiving DVDs of each practice at his Manhattan apartment. He devises practice plans from there. A day before the first game of the season, the coaching staff had yet to settle on a starting lineup.

"We haven't even really talked about it," Chiles said. "I don't even think we're really putting a big emphasis on who's starting, who's not starting.

"I tell you what: Throw eight names on the board, it's gonna be five of those guys."

Chiles was referring to the eight -- yes, only eight -- scholarship players on the St. John's roster entering the 2011-2012 season. Six are newcomers -- four freshmen, two junior college transfers -- with junior guard Malik Stith the only returnee with experience.

Stith, who averaged 12.2 minutes per game last season in a reserve role, is not a lock to start Tuesday night, according to Chiles.

"I hardly even think about that," said Stith, when asked about starting versus coming off the bench. "We don't really have a starting lineup as of now, we'll just see tomorrow what the coaches put together."

The crowd will be most interested in seeing the new players -- a highly touted recruiting class, including three players ranked among the top 100 high school seniors in the country by ESPN.

It's safe to say the new guys are fired up for Tuesday night.

"I'm approaching this as if we're playing Syracuse tomorrow," Harrison said. "I feel like this game is like the last game I'm ever gonna play. … Everybody feels the same way; everybody's willing to put their life on the line to win this game."

St. John's is not playing Syracuse on Tuesday, but its opponent is no slouch. C.W. Post, located on Long Island, is a Division II squad that went 21-10 a season ago. The team is coached by Chris Casey, a St. John's assistant for six years before being hired at C.W. Post in May 2010. He piloted the team to an East Coast Conference championship and the NCAA Division II East Regional in his first season at the helm.

The Pioneers are led by 5-foot-10 senior guard Stefan Bonneau (No. 22), who averaged a conference-leading 18.9 points per game last season. Bonneau was named an honorable mention Division II All-American this fall by The Sporting News.

C.W. Post will also play an exhibition game against defending national champion UConn on Nov. 6.

"We've scouted it as much as we could have," said Chiles, who added that the staff has watched "a tape or two" of last year's C.W. Post team. "They're an athletic team, they've got good guard play, and they're gonna come in here and they're gonna play us tough."

Could St. John's lose on Tuesday night? It's certainly not inconceivable. Syracuse was stunned by Division II LeMoyne, 82-79, in an exhibition game at the Carrier Dome two years ago.

And an exhibition loss does not spell doom. That Syracuse team went on to go 30-5 and win the Big East regular-season title.

But the truth is, no one knows what to expect from this young, brand-new St. John's team on Tuesday night.

"Some days we're out there, we look really, really good," Chiles said. "Other days we walk out of the gym and say, 'Whew, we keep forgetting these guys are 17 and 18 years old.'

"What's gonna happen? Talk to me after the game."