Steve Lavin

Steve Lavin makes return to St. John’s sideline for good after prostate cancer surgery

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JAMAICA, N.Y.–As St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin jogged out of the tunnel during his introduction at the Red Storm’s Midnight Madness festivities Friday night, McFadden & Whitehead’s hit song “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” boomed in the background, fittingly marking Lavin’s first big, public moment with the team in nearly a year.

Lavin underwent prostate cancer last October and returned to coach sparingly during the first part of last season before taking time to recover and focus on the recruiting trail. He missed last season’s event, which took place shortly after he underwent surgery.

“Feeding off the players’ energy is an uplifting experience,” he said. “It reminds you of the joy that team sports can bring. Seeing those kids as they watch their team members go out…it was a palpable energy.”

Friday night’s appearance was met with an uproarious applause from the nearly 3,200 in attendance at St. John’s on-campus Carnesecca Arena and, after the event, Lavin was back in rare form with the media, speaking in his patented off-the-cuff metaphors and similes.

“It’s like Christmas Eve, shaking the presents and trying to figure out what they are,” he joked. “Easter egg hunts or Halloween, putting the gear on for the first time. All those things that bring joy to young people.”

The event at Carnesecca Friday night gave the public its first glance at Lavin’s latest top-10 recruiting class, which is led by athletic post-graduate JaKarr Sampson and late signee Chris Obekpa, a shot-blocking presence that St. John’s lacked last season.

A young and inexperienced Red Storm team finished 13-19 in 2011-12 and, though they lost centerpiece Moe Harkless to the NBA, return leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison.

Harrison becomes the clear team leader after averaging 16.8 points per game last season. Expect Harrison to see time at the point guard spot, though he is more of a natural shooting guard.

During St. John’s run to the NCAA tournament in 2009-10, Lavin put a similar player and scorer, Dwight Hardy, at the point guard spot with good results. Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch is also eligible to play in December, which could solve some of the depth chart issues in the backcourt.

The Red Storm also lost assistant coach Mike Dunlap to the NBA, as he took a job to become that franchise’s next head coach. Darrick Martin, a former NBA point guard who has ties to Lavin’s time at UCLA, takes Dunlap’s spot on the bench.

St. John’s was picked to finish 10th in the preseason media poll, released Tuesday, just ahead of Rutgers and slightly behind Connecticut.

Much of the Red Storm’s success this season will depend on the development of its youth, namely Harrison, elite defender Sir’Dominic Pointer, guard Phil Greene, and swingman Amir Garrett, all of whom are now sophomores.

“With every optimistic remark that I make about an individual or collectively, I temper that with the harsh reality that it’s the youngest team…in the country,” Lavin said. “We’ll have to go through all the trials and tribulations that young teams do.”

But, as much of the focus was Friday, much can be said about the impact Lavin has now that he is back on the sidelines.

“We have our leader back,” said Garrett. “When he was out last year, it was sad. But now he’s back and ready to go.”

The Red Storm open their season on Nov. 13 at home against Detroit.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman out with a knee injury

UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. shoots against San Diego State during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.

The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.

They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.

That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.

Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:

VIDEO: Buddy Hield is ‘all money’ on game-winning three vs. No. 24 Texas

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) takes a shot over Oklahoma State forward Chris Oliver during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
(AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)
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With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.

At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes

“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:

“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”

“It’s all money.”

Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.

Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .

Want to talk about coaching luxuries?

Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.