03/30/2010 4:40 PM ET
Lavin to become next coach of St. John's
Former UCLA head man has agreed to a six-year deal
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Steve Lavin has worked as a TV analyst for ESPN since being fired as head coach by UCLA in 2003. (AP)

The Steve Lavin Era at St. John's has officially begun.

The former UCLA coach took over at the Queens school Tuesday and reportedly agreed to a six-year deal worth between $9-9.5 million.

The school will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

As of about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Lavin told 1050 ESPN he had received 286 text messages from people congratulating him and inquiring about staff possibilities.

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to return to the sidelines coaching college basketball at a school like St. John's that has such tradition and heritage in terms of the history of basketball," Lavin, 45, said in a statement. "Then you add the academic dimension, as well as New York City and Madison Square Garden, it's as good as it gets.

"The veteran, senior-laden team is a real advantage in terms of having the experience of playing in the Big East and competing at the highest level," Lavin said. "I look forward to getting to know each of the players individually, being able to sit down and watch some game film from last year, putting together a staff and starting to have our school sessions in terms of planning for next season."

St. John's last reached a Final Four in 1985, but Lavin said he believes the program can return to its former glory.

"You've got to look at the big picture, tradition, heritage. It's been done before, which is an indication that it can be done again," Lavin told 1050 ESPN's Michael Kay.

Lavin reportedly met Monday at a TriBeCa restaurant with St. John's Athletic Director Chris Monasch, and discussions continued Tuesday. He then had lunch with legendary former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca on campus.

"Today is the start of a new era in the venerable history of St. John's basketball," Monasch said. "Steve brings the skill set and persona that we feel gives us a chance to compete at the highest level in the Big East. Since Coach Lavin was unveiled as a candidate, you could feel the excitement throughout the city. St. John's is poised to recapture its legacy as New York's college team."

Lavin married the actress Mary Ann Jarou in Capri, Italy in 2007. She has appeared in episodes of "Entourage," "ER" and "General Hospital." The couple lives in Los Angeles, and Lavin's parents live in Northern California. They are all hoping to appear at the press conference.

Lavin will need to hire a staff with New York ties. Former Virginia coach Dave Leitao, a New Bedford, Mass., native involved with several other coaching openings, has been prominently mentioned as a potential assistant. A source close to Manhattan coach Barry "Slice" Rohrssen said he was "happy" at his current school.

Among local AAU and high school coaches who could add a strong New York presence are Rice coach Moe Hicks, Lincoln coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton, New Heights Athletic Director Kimani Young and former NBA star and New York City playground legend Kenny Anderson. Former Fordham interim coach Jared Grasso, who recruited several players out of St. Anthony and Paterson Catholic, is also available.

"Over my 23 years as a basketball coach and a broadcaster at the highest level, I've got ties in the East Coast from AAU coaches to high school coaches to current college coaches," Lavin said.

"There's a number of guys I'd like to talk to, that I know I have relationships with and have already been exchanging emails and phone calls and texts and we're going to draw from a very talented pool of assistant coaches. I also want some people to have some great international ties because I think with a place like New York City you can attract people internationally."

St. John's has one signed recruit for next season, 6-foot-7 forward Ronald Roberts of Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep. St. Peter's Prep assistant Todd Decker said they hoped to meet with Lavin this week.

"I really like the hire for them," Decker said.

Lavin has been an analyst for ESPN since UCLA fired him in 2003 and he told 1050 ESPN "his time away helped in terms of knowledge and acumen...It was kind of like a sabbatical."

He had a 145-78 record with UCLA, leading the school to the Sweet 16 five times. The Bruins reached the final eight in 1997, his first season. Lavin was fired by UCLA after going 10-19, his only losing season and the school's first in 55 years. It was the only season in which one of Lavin's UCLA teams did not win at least 20 games. He was succeeded by former Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland.

St. John's, which fired Norm Roberts after six seasons, has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002. The Red Storm lost to Memphis in the first round of the NIT to finish the season at 17-16, giving Roberts an 81-101 record with the school.

"I think Norm Roberts really stabilized the program," Lavin said. "He represented the program in such a classy fashion and just had great integrity and I have the utmost respect for Norm Roberts."

St. John's returns all five starters and 94 percent of its scoring from last season's team.

"This is an experienced team coming back, nine seniors, nine upperclassmen. They came close in a lot of games. They lost some close games and if those had gone the other way, they might have been 10-8 or 9-9 in the Big East and had a chance to be in the NCAA Tournament," Lavin added.

Florida coach Billy Donovan reportedly rejected a St. John's overture to succeed Roberts and Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt rejected an offer last week. Al Skinner, who was fired by Boston College on Tuesday, also was interviewed.

Now Lavin moves East and hopes to turn St. John's around.

"It just felt right, in terms of timing," Lavin said of his decision on 1050 ESPN. "I missed the competition at the highest level. Nothing like being in the [NCAA] tournament or making runs in the tournament or going up against your rival in a big-time game. I missed the camaraderie with the coaching staff, as well as the players. I missed the teaching component on a daily basis."

The Associated Press contributed.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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