St. John's struggles can solely be pinned on Steve Lavin

Rarely do I ever start an article by airing out a little secret. But because of the topic of this article I think I should. I am a huge fan of Steve Lavin. Not just Steve Lavin the recruiting expert, former broadcaster and coach, but of the person. There are few people who have dealt with more in their own personal lives than Lavin has over the last two years. There even fewer who have done so in such a classy, dignified way as the St. John’s Red Storm coach.

Also, it should be pointed out that I have long backed Lavin. I never thought he should have been fired by the UCLA Bruins nor have I hurled any blame towards him for any of the Red Storm struggles the last few seasons. Maybe I was giving him a pass because of the courageous way he beat cancer (which is way more important than anything I’ll even touch on) or the fact that he also lost his father the following year.

Regardless, I am what you would call a Steve Lavin homer. So, it really bothers me that I felt it necessary that it was time to do any form of Lavin bashing. Still, St. John’s supposedly has all the talent in the world, but have no wins in Big East Conference play and don’t actually look like they are building forward momentum as a program.

Truth be told, though, I never thought that St. John’s had as much talent on it as others. Yes, Lavin has done a great job in bringing in a large number of highly rated talent. Although, it should be noted that most of those players are the same types of players. The athletic, can’t really shoot at all, gifted but not skilled type of players. Outside of the dynamic D’Angelo Harrison, many other of the Red Storm players are interchangeable — and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Each player does have talent, though. I am not saying St. John’s has none or that the guys on the roster can’t play. They can. However, none of them are really being put in a situation to succeed. Rather, it is Lavin seemingly letting the players doing what they want and playing a glorified version of isolation offense. Mainly because that is the only kind of players Lavin seems to recruit. Offensively oriented, ball-in-hand heavy players.

Take JaKarr Sampson as example. A talented, super-athletic forward. Many people feel like Sampson might be a late first or second round NBA talent. I disagree, but I am certainly in the minority on this. I think he is more in-line with being a summer camp invite who is unlikely to stick to a roster. That is my opinion on him as a pro, but again that is certainly not the perception of him as a player by people far smarter than I. What everyone can agree o about his game, though, is the iffy-at-best shot selection Sampson sometimes has. There might not be a player in college who is more in love with his jumper than Sampson. Unfortunately, Sampson has a horrible jumper. A problem that could be easily fixed by some quality coaching or Lavin simply telling him not to shoot jumpers.

I’m not trying to pick on Sampson’s lack of mid-range ability either. It’s just an example to highlight what little scheming seems to be going on with the Red Storm. If you were horrible at math or dealing with numbers but were still somehow employed by a bank, they sure as heck wouldn’t put you in charge of dealing with the money. Instead, they would find a way to better utilize your talents (whatever they might be) and not put you in a position to get fired, fail or look like a dope. It feels like Lavin is allowing Sampson to do such things. Which has — with every missed jumper — really hurt Sampson’s draft stock.

Then there are smaller things. Like getting the ball out of Rysheed Jordan’s hands in the final minutes of a game. Jordan was a heavily hyped player coming out of Philadelphia. Fast-forward to now and he hasn’t really lived up to those expectations. Which, really, is fine. It’s not Jordan’s job to live up to other people’s expectations. It is Lavin’s job, however, to not let Jordan — who has a pension for poor decision making — to dribble around for 10 seconds while St. John’s is down 8 points with only 30 seconds left on the clock.

Those are just a few of the very many examples of poor coaching being done at St. John’s. Trust me, though, I can easily make an argument as to why Steve Lavin’s job should still be safe and he isn’t even remotely near any form of hot seat. Things like Lavin having a buzz building around the program (even though none of the buzz has really equated to anything), being a tremendous recruiter (only one Lavin recruited Red Storm player has been drafted into the NBA) and the fact that he really hasn’t had the health to give it his all over the last few seasons. All of which are true and all of which are starting to feel like me constantly making excuses for him.

I don’t know what St. John’s is supposed to be as a program. They were (keyword being were) a really big deal to the old Big East. The Red Storm were also a legitimate national player at one point in time. After a slew of poor coaching hires, however, St. John’s became a college basketball afterthought. The Steve Lavin hire was supposed to change all of that, and it kind of has — except without any winning, sans Lavin’s first year in the program, with another coach’s players.

What kind of program does St. John’s want to be and what is or isn’t Lavin’s limitations as a coach? Are the Red Storm just happy to be brought up in the preseason, but constantly flounder when the season actually gets started? Can Lavin be more than just a great, great recruiter as well as such a class act that people like me tend to give him passes? I honestly don’t have the answer to any of these questions.

This St. John’s team was everyone’s “sleeper” pick during the preseason to do damage in and around the NCAA. Often praised in the preseason for having as much talent on it as any in the nation. So what exactly is going on? No one can really be sure. But someone has to start answering for it, right? Guess it is time to start questioning Steve Lavin. Which is something I never thought I would have to do.

At the end of the day all anyone talks about is how much talent St. John’s has. Sans Ken Pomeroy and myself, everyone believes this. If that is the case and St. John’s still can’t win, their players continue to look inept and the program doesn’t progress, Lavin has to be the one to blame.

{Please go on a five game winning streak. Please go on a five game winning streak. Please go on a five game winning streak}.

Lavin, you might not be in California anymore but the end result might look rather similar.

{Sad face}

Tags: D'Angelo Harrison JaKarr Sampson St. John's Red Storm Steve Lavin

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