5:29p: Big East Media Day is a lot of travel and a lot of bodies for very little groundbreaking information.
Was Pitt’s Jamie Dixon worried about expectations being too high after his team was selected preseason number one? Nope.
Was Oliver Purnell concerned about establishing a winning culture again at DePaul? I’ve done it before, he said.
Was Georgetown’s Austin Freeman a little nervous about giving a speech to all of the players, coaches and media? “I’m not gonna lie, I really was,” said the senior.
But his coach put it best, “They don’t hand out trophies in October,” said John Thompson III. And away we go.
Conference commissioner John Marinatto kicked if off with a speech that glorified the conference – and after the darts he’s faced about his fall product, basketball season’s got to be his favorite time of the year.
The conference introduced four new head coaches at Media Day in Madison Square Garden. Purnell at DePaul, Mike Rice at Rutgers, Kevin Willard at Seton Hall, and Steve Lavin at St. John’s.
Lavin is in maybe the most intriguing situation of all of the coaches. He inherits a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2002 and that since Mike Jarvis left in 2003 has gone 83-118.
Some might say the toughest part of turning around a program is providing a new atmosphere. Purnell makes his players run at 5 a.m. if only even one player is late for practice. So that’s the discipline side. But there’s also recruiting. Lavin is a smooth guy – he was on television as a basketball analyst and knows how to flaunt things.
So how does he take over a school in the best basketball hotbed in the world and turn things around? I talked with him for a good amount today about just that. He said what he starts with is his sales pitch.
“All we’ve tried to do is amplify the tradition, the great heritage of St. Johns, amplify the intimate, smaller, personalized education St. Johns offers. The BIG EAST conference, Madison Square Garden is our home court, New York City is one of the best in the world. What do we need to do to gradually make progress in this rugged league we compete in?”
One of the tougher parts of his job is trying to play catch up. When Norm Roberts left, out went the losing record, but so did any and all progress made on tracking recruits.
“I think the one inherent weakness at this point in our presentation is that we were a year and a half to two years behind all the other schools in the country other than the schools that had coaching changes. So it’s ‘How are you able to make up for lost ground?’ You have to be precise in going after targets that you can secure, and not waste time and energy—what I consider ammunition—on prospects or targets you cant secure. If you’re chasing prospects or targets you’re not gonna end up with, then it costs you the ability to scecure the ones you should have been shooting at all along. One of they keys is not only identifying talent, but also talent you can secure.”
He then jokingly (I can only hope) asked me if I was ready to sign. To which I said, “Show me where”. He complimented me on my basketball build. (I’ve still obviously got it.) Once I told him the only thing I’d be good at is sitting at the end of the bench and keeping the team GPA up, the joke was on him.
To be able to recruit though, you’ve got to have the right people to do it. Lavin says his hires were calculated - not just for nabbing bodies, but for coaching them too.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t cognizant of that, but if you look at the hires or actually a lot of people either applying for the job, involved with the job in terms of people I spoke with who were considered elite recruiters—I instead went with a group of people that I felt were accomplished, solid teachers, good reputations, good people. I looked at blending, like a good toolbox, a mix both in terms of geographical, personalities, strengths and was just looking to get a diverse staff that would be complementary to one another and would really benefit the players and our program. I’m pleased with where we are in recruiting, but I would have put together a completely different staff if my focus was on just trying to get the best recruiters in the country. I really felt with the track record and my experience in recruiting with what we have to sell as a program, that we’d get out share of players.”
It sounds like it wouldn’t be too hard. You’re already in the best basketball area you could ask for. You play in Madison Square Garden. For Lavin, it’s the inside-out recruiting approach.
“Number one your backyard is always your top priority. New Jersey, New York, the Metro-area, the Northeast in general. We have to secure our share of the top prospects. And then St. John’s brand is strong enough so that we can go coast to coast and internationally. It’s really all three—we want our backyard, we want national, we want international. That’s unique to New York and L.A. If I was coaching in Iowa City or I was at Iowa City, you’d have a different strategy. But we’re in New York and it makes more sense to do it backyard, national, and international.”
He had to go do some television interviews after that, but as I was chatting with Jay Williams of ESPN later, Coach Lavin strolled by. On the way out, he invited Jay to smoke some Macanudos later and watch the Yankee game. I thought I was friends with Coach Lav. I guess not.
10:05a: The Fizz made the Big East football media day our water boy. We pushed it, demanded more from it and ate its lunch. Now, it’s time to start digging into the hoops version. Watch out Big Apple, a bubbling Orange has stormed into down.
The last we saw this Syracuse basketball outfit it was dejectedly walking off the floor after the indigestible Sweet 16 loss to Butler. Questions linger. What would have happened if Arinze stayed healthy? How come Rick Jackson didn’t respond in the big man’s absence? Why did SU’s outside shooting go ice against the Bulldogs?
Syracuse has sent a contingent of The Per’fesser, Jackson, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph to NYC today. While we know the season will center around the nucleus of those three veterans (with K-Jo as a starter for the entire season), where do Brandon Triche, Fab Melo, Dion Waiters, and the rest of the kiddies fit into the rotation? Boeheim usually likes to go with a seven man group – so who’s in a who’s out? Which of the freshman does he trust with minutes?
The Post-Standard conducted its annual media poll of the conference and Pittsburgh was chosen as the preseason favorites. The ‘Cuse #2? Nope. Villanova and Georgetown tied for second. The Orange finally checked in at fourth. Motivation much? But the story this season is undoubtedly the kids. The biggest both literally and figuratively is Fab Melo, chosen as the preseason Big East rookie of the year.
The Fizz takes Manhattan this week thanks to the folks at the Cake Group for hooking up travel and accommodations. Cake chose The Fizz as the Syracuse rep to be a part of “The Biggest Fan of the Big East” competition. When you see us tweet with “#naughtyvolvo” it’s a part of our efforts to win the competition. More info (and brain washing to vote for us) to come.
On the line is a trip to the Big East Championships at the Garden in March where Fab Melo will carry the Orange to the title averaging 22/8 and wreaking havoc on the rest of the college basketball landscape. So when flash the Bat Signal, simply vote for us in the mybigeast.com fan poll and everyone wins.
Follow our Twitter feed and Facebook page throughout the day for live updates from MSG. The Fizz takes the Apple.
Posted: Mike Couzens