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St. John's gambling with Lavin

Editor's note: March Madness is too much for any one person to handle, so I'm adding help. The guys behind Ballin' Is a Habit, Rob Dauster and Troy Machir, will be contributing throughout March and into the Final Four, both with content from their Web site and original articles for us. This post originally appeared at BIAH.

By Rob Dauster

It's not too difficult to figure out that St. John's was looking to make a splash when hiring their new coach.

The school basically offered everyone. Billy Donovan turned down $3 million a year. St. John's AD Chris Monasch couldn't convince Paul Hewitt, and his family, to leave Atlanta. Seth Greenberg passed. Al Skinner didn't fit the bill. Fran McCaffery went to Iowa. Kevin Willard went to Seton Hall to clean up that mess instead.

The Johnnies finally hired a coach, inking Steve Lavin to a six-year deal worth somewhere around $9 million. Yes, that Steve Lavin, who's been an ESPN analyst since 2003. Fans are certainly excited about the hiring, and NYC media members seem optimistic as well.

As I said, St. John's wanted to make a splash. They wanted the media and the fans to be talking about it, and they succeeded. Lavin is a big name and a face people will recognize, but whether or not he is a big time coach deserves to be questioned.

Lavin lucked into the UCLA job. It's that simple. Jim Harrick was fired in November of 1996, and his two lead assistants -- Mark Gottfried and Lorenzo Romar -- had already taken other gigs, The Bruins then turned to Lavin, who at that point was an unproven assistant.

He wasn't terrible at UCLA. He went to five Sweet 16's in seven years. He made the Elite Eight in his first season. He twice put together the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (1998, 2001), signed seven McDonald's All-Americans, and has sent seven players to the NBA.

But there's the problem.

With that much talent coming through his program, the only year he was able to advance beyond the Sweet 16 was his first year, when he was hired a week before the season started. It also was the only time UCLA finished better than third in the Pac-10 during his tenure. They were sixth in the conference his last two seasons, including a 10-19 debacle in 2003.

There is no questioning Lavin's persona -- he's great with the media and is a people person. The guy just oozes charisma.

He's also a California guy with connections up-and-down the West Coast. Anyone that is going to have any kind of success at St. John's has to be able to recruit New York City and the tri-state area. The amount of talent that comes out of the region is impressive, but the politics of recruiting NYC can also be daunting.

How is Lavin going to establish connections with the city's AAU and high school programs?

For Lavin to be successful at St. John's, he needs to do two things. He needs to hire an assistant that is an Xs-and-Os kind of guy -- that was the biggest criticism of his tenure at UCLA -- and he needs to hire a New York guy to recruit.

He basically has a year to do it as well. St. John's has nine scholarship seniors, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It means that Lavin will be coaching a team with experience and maturity, which is just about all you can ask for at a new program.

But it also means he is going to be in a whole lot of trouble if he can't recruit. Nine scholarships is a lot of spots to fill.

I know St. John's is far from the program it was in the 80's, or even in the late 90's. But there is something to be said for New York City's college basketball team. They play in Madison Square Garden. There is history there. It's not crazy to think that this program can be rebuilt.

But for Lavin to do it, he is going to need a quality staff around him. As it is, St. John's is putting a lot of faith in a guy that hasn't coached in the last seven seasons -- which is equivalent to the experience he has as a head coach -- and who has held just one head coaching job where he wasn't overly successful.

This could turn out great for St. John's, but it could also end up being a very expensive mistake.

You can find more of Rob's writing at Ballin' is a Habit and follow him on Twitter @ballinishabit.