NEW YORK — Steve Lavin made his first appearance as coach of St. John's in a building he'll soon become quite familiar with – Madison Square Garden.
About 4 hours after he agreed to take charge of New York City's top college program, Lavin sat down Tuesday night for an impromptu news conference during the NIT semifinals.
"Having come here as an assistant coach and then a head coach at UCLA and then as a broadcaster, I have a sense and feel for how special an arena it is, it is the world's biggest stage for college basketball," Lavin said.
He now will get a chance to show his coaching ability on that stage.
He will be officially introduced at a news conference on Wednesday.
Lavin has been an analyst for ESPN since UCLA fired him in 2003. That was the subject of most of the questions he faced – those seven years away from coaching.
"For starters, the 15 years at Purdue and UCLA as a coach allowed me to build the foundation for my second career as a broadcaster," he said. "The last seven years as a broadcaster allowed me to travel the country as a barnstormer with my partner, observing and studying different styles, different coaches, aspects of game preparation, the game itself sitting courtside, breaking down tape, the scouting reports.
"This was an extended sabbatical that allowed me to stay close to the game, a little more distant to see things with more clarity and when you come back to the game you bring all that with you to enhance your ability to coach and run a successful program."
He had a 145-78 record with UCLA, leading the school to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 five times. The Bruins reached the final eight in 1997, his first season.
St. John's, which fired Norm Roberts after six seasons, has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2002.
The Red Storm, who play several home games each season in Madison Square Garden, 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.
St. John's returns all five starters and 94 percent of its scoring from last season's team.
Lavin said his first order of business would be to assemble a staff.
"That's my No. 1 priority," he said. "I want assistants who are strong in the Northeast with recruiting ties and I want to look for people who have had experience as a head coach."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt rejected an offer from St. John's last week. Al Skinner, who was fired by Boston College on Tuesday, also was interviewed.
St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch said Lavin "fit all the criteria we had established."
"In hindsight we wound up with the best guy," he said.
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.
"I'm very happy for Steve," Howland said Tuesday. "St. John's has got an outstanding tradition and history. It's going to be exciting for him after being out of coaching for seven years and (now being) in the biggest media market in the United States.
"I'm sure he'll do an outstanding job."
Lavin, who had five years remaining on his contract when he was fired, fell into the job when Jim Harrick was fired in November 1996 – only a week before the season began and 19 months after the Bruins won their 11th national championship. With Harrick assistants Mark Gottfried and Lorenzo Romar already having taken head jobs, then-athletic director Peter Dalis promoted Lavin from unproven assistant to head coach.
His teams at UCLA beat four No. 1-ranked teams, but in his final season, the Bruins had a then-record 10 losses at Pauley Pavilion and the average attendance of 8,348 in the 12,819-seat arena was the lowest since 1993.
Ten of UCLA's national championships were won under coach John Wooden in the 1960s and 1970s. The other was under Harrick in 1995 – when Lavin was the No. 3 assistant.