Feb. 3, 2011
Head Coach Steve Lavin
On being focused after win over Duke:
"We’ve been pretty focused. Coaches are creatures of habit and routine. We’re locked into that in-season mode. The St. John’s fan base is energized because of our wins over Duke and Rutgers. This group of seniors has the resolve to do something special this year."
On when he first learned about the UCLA game and a return trip to Los Angeles:
"It came up in the interview when I first met Athletic Director Chris Monasch. [UCLA Director of Athletics] Dan Guerrero and Chris Monasch had known each other for years because they served on the NCAA Committee, and were contemporaries for their age and field. I knew of the positive of returning to Southern California because naturally it’s going to be an area that we recruit from after the 20 years I’ve spent here. As you guys know, I have such an affinity for the school here in Westwood. To me, it was a real plus."
On the similarities and differences between Los Angeles and New York:
"This is a snapshot, because it’s only been approximately ten months in New York. You need a couple of years to get a sense and an assessment of a place. St. John’s and UCLA, which I can speak to more specifically, the two programs have more similarities than differences in terms of tradition, heritage and fan bases passionate about basketball. They are located in fertile recruiting territories and major media markets. Los Angeles and New York are opposite ends of the country, but have similarities in media aspects."
On why he returned to St. John’s to coach:
"It was the timing. I was enjoying my work at ESPN, barnstorming around the country, calling the games and working in the studio. The opportunity to develop a second career in broadcasting and to work alongside some people who I enjoyed being with and learning from, and the Disney Corporation is a great company to work for. I wasn’t in a hurry to leave unless it was a great opportunity and had all of the components that you need to have in order to be successful in the highest levels of college basketball. I was more than comfortable with the possibility of riding out my professional life in broadcasting. I was close enough to people like Bill Raftery, Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps who had carved out a pretty nice life for themselves and working in a career that they enjoy and are passionate about. At St. John’s, the timing and the opportunity were right. There was no better place than a school that has heritage and tradition, a home court at Madison Square Garden, a city where you can recruit a tri-state area, a rabid fanbase and a great conference."
On whether he returned to coaching because he felt the need to prove something:
"I came from a town with a population of 2,500 people. I graduated from a school in Chapman University with an enrollment of 2,500. The entire 23 years from my graduation at Chapman has been a magic carpet ride. I was grateful at each stop. Purdue University was a great experience. Twelve years at UCLA was a wonderful experience. The seven years at ESPN was a wonderful experience. Naturally, along the way, I was aware that success at the highest level like a place like UCLA is expected, or someone else gets a crack at it. You give thanks, and you wish your successor good luck and you move on. I wouldn’t trade my time at any of those places for anything in the world. The motivating factor to coming back was finding a school where there was a good fit. If there wasn’t a mutual interest on both sides, I was at peace with going as a broadcaster into retirement. This was too good of a situation and too natural of a fit to pass up. I understood the criticism, but that comes with the territory at the highest levels of basketball."
How is he different as a coach then when he left UCLA:
"Another person like Coach Keady or my family or former players or Rico Hines would be better suited for that assessment. It’s tough to really self-evaluate. I’m always in the moment and focused on the task at hand. With everyone who employed me, I tried to be a hard worker, I tried to deliver. Obviously now I’m 46 years old. I took over at UCLA when I was 32 years old. There was a lot of years between the start of my tenure at UCLA and the job that I now have with St. John’s. That naturally brings on change that you would see as a writer, broadcaster, lawyer, doctor, judge or any industry. I think you are dramatically different at 32 years old as opposed to 46 years old."
Did it help that he didn’t go away from the spotlight while at ESPN:
"The combination of being at UCLA for those 12 years combined with seven years in television where you’re in the epicenter of the sport is certainly important and has been a real positive when it comes to the recruiting trails, talking to high school coaches, the fans in the streets and fundraising. It has really helped having different roles closely linked to college basketball, as an assistant coach, head coach, broadcaster and now back as a head coach."
On his relationships with former players:
"The strongest motivation for my return to coaching was to teach, coach and work with young people. I missed the camaraderie with the coaching staff and players. I missed the competition at the highest level. I missed the life of a campus and nurturing of relationships that last for a lifetime. So when Earl Watson or Baron Davis come to New York, you can catch up at a nice spot for a bite to eat and reflect on the best times at UCLA, that’s what it’s really all about. It’s always been about relationships. But at that level you have to win a lot of games, create revenue streams, fill the seats, make runs to the Tournament and get boosters to write big checks. If you don’t do those things, then someone else gets a crack at it. I’ve always been aware of that. In terms of the criticism, I’ve always understood that comes with the territory. I’ve had great mentors that prepared for the rigors of big-time college basketball. I’ve learned from the very best. None of that caught me off-guard. The only thing at times that puzzled me was the way people somehow want you to apologize for having some wonderful opportunities over the last 23 years. Those are opportunities of a lifetime, when you think about UCLA, ESPN and now St. John’s. So that takes you aback because I’ve been grateful and thankful and worked hard at whatever stop I’ve been at. There is that impression that people expect you to apologize or feel guilty for having a degree of success. Clearly not the success expected at UCLA, because there it has to be national championships or Final Fours or you’re out. But I understand that comes with the territory so I never really took offense to it."
On if working at ESPN helped him as a coach:
"Looking at the game through a different lens was valuable. Gaining life experience in a second career was valuable. Working in a different organization alongside some of the best in Brent Musburger and Dave O’Brien and learning about ESPN as a corporation, there are you things you learn that you are able to bring forward in the next organization that you become the leader of. Specifically with basketball, traveling from coast to coast and watching the top programs from an analyst’s perspective increases your basketball knowledge and acumen."
On his relationship with Coach Keady:
"Coach Keady was the one who opened the door for me 23 years ago, and gave me the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the history of the game. Other than my mother and father, he’s been the most influential person in my life. He’s the person I turn to for advice at critical intersections and junctures. He’s an ally, a friend and a mentor. Because of our friendship and my respect for him, it just made sense to have him. He’s our ‘Mr. Miyagi,’ our basketball oracle or our basketball Buddha. He brings his 800-plus wins and a grandfatherly presence to our program. Our kids really enjoy being around him."
On the UCLA fanbase:
"UCLA is just unique. You have the Green Bay Packers and Vince Lombardi, the Yankees and Lakers, the Celtics with Red Auerbach. There are certain sports entities and institutions that are just unique from any other. When you coach UCLA, there is only one coach in the history of this program, and that’s John Wooden. Everyone else understands that is inherent in the equation. You are grateful to get to play a small part, however long it is, in being part of a great tradition. Along with the fanbase, it’s the people I’m close with. You have the administration in the athletic department, or the boosters and donors that I hit it off with, or former players. Those relationships are what carry the day. I understand that anything less than a national title or Final Four at UCLA is a failure. That’s o.k. I’m just grateful that I was able to be at that institution and be a head coach there, build some great relationships along the way. That wonderful opportunity led to my being at St. John’s as a result of my time at UCLA."
On the play of Dwayne Polee II this season:
"He’s going through the natural maturation process of a freshman. We are really pleased with his approach, work ethic and his eagerness to learn. He has all the key ingredients for greatness. He has 10 seniors who have taken him under their wing and are helping to mentor him. Being a California player who received a lot of attention, it would be natural for the returning seniors to resent him initially. Instead they have really embraced him. He has a humble way about him which has made for a more cohesive basketball team. He’s had some games where he’s really contributed and other games where he’s been a solid complementary player. We are really happy with where Dwayne is."