Whether as a head coach, a broadcaster or a head coach again, Steve Lavin has become one of the most recognizable faces – and voices – in college basketball.
In the mid-’80s, however, Lavin was merely a college student playing Division II basketball at Chapman University in California. That’s when he started writing letters – to Gene Keady, to Bobby Knight, and, yes, to Mike Krzyzewski, the man chasing history against Lavin this Sunday.
“Well, during (my) college days, I knew that I wanted to coach,” Lavin said on Tiki and Tierney. “That’s what I aspired to do. And it was clear as a Division II basketball player at Chapman University that there was no future in the NBA. So I figured the sooner I started turning (my) energies toward life after college, the better (I would be) in terms of the career path. So I was fortunate that Coach Keady and Mike Krzyzewski – and as you mentioned, Bob Knight – all corresponded. And it says a lot about them in terms of being willing to share time – to take the time – to help young people who had an interest or an appetite in teaching and coaching.”
Keady hired Lavin as an assistant at Purdue in 1988.
“When I was hired at Purdue, I got to know Mike Krzyzewski kind of at a different level because of Coach K’s involvement in USA Basketball,” Lavin said. “So the relationship continued. As a head coach at UCLA, our teams faced each other, and of course here at St. Johns they’ve faced each other.”
Lavin and Krzyzewski got to know each other outside of basketball, too.
“During my fight with cancer – when I was forced by the doctors to step away from coaching for a year – Mike Krzyzewski was one of the first people to call, which meant a lot,” Lavin said. “Just to help me navigate kind of the emotional minefield when you’ve got to step away from your team as he did during his career in the ’90s when he went through some health issues. So just in a number of different ways, he’s been a great advisor, mentor, friend – someone I looked up to when I was in high school and college, and then through (my) coaching career.”
Yet, Lavin finds himself trying to prevent Krzyzewski from getting his 1,000 career win – this Sunday, at least. St. John’s (13-5) hosts No. 5 Duke at Madison Square Garden at 2 p.m. ET.
It should be a packed house as Krzyzewski, already the winningest coach in men’s basketball history, chases this historic achievement.
“I wold imagine it’ll be electric,” Lavin said of the atmosphere. “(There will) be (a) kind of palpable energy in the house for a number of reasons – for Coach K and the milestone that he’s in pursuit of, because it’s a St. John’s/Duke game, because it’s in the Garden, it’s on a Sunday and this is the time of year (when) more eyes turn towards college basketball. So I think it’ll be a special situation where you’ll have a lot of people in the house that are rocking for Duke, and then you’ll have a lot of St. John’s fans there as well who want to see (us) beat Duke. So I know our players are looking forward to the challenge.”