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The Daily Wildcat

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St. John’s, Arizona in similar situations

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Christopher Pasatieri
St. John's Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin reacts to the game action during the second half of the men's Big East basketball tournament against the Syracuse Orange at Madison Square Garden in New York, Thursday, March 10 2011. The Orange won, 79-73. (Christopher Pasatieri/Newsday/MCT)

More than 2,500 miles separate Arizona and St. John’s.

The Wildcats and the Red Storm play in different conferences, have different histories and employ different styles of play.

But despite the list of differences, head coaches Sean Miller and Steve Lavin actually find themselves in more similar situations than expected.

“We’re a new team, we have lots of newcomers and are very young,” Lavin said on the 2k Sports Classic conference call on Monday. “We like the skill and quickness that our team has exhibited to this point, but we don’t have the depth of size in terms of front line, and overall we’re a bit thin in terms of our rotation.”

Sound familiar?

Like Arizona, St. John’s is a young and inexperienced group relying on freshmen to step into the spotlight and contribute.

With five freshmen and two junior college transfers in the starting lineup, Lavin can relate.

“As we step up in competition we’ll get a better sense for where we are as a basketball team,” Lavin said. “You have to stay tuned in terms of where this basketball team is headed.”

While Miller had to deal with losing arguably the best player in the country in Derrick Williams and his starting point guard in Momo Jones, Lavin was forced to find an entirely new staring lineup.

The Red Storm’s four leading scorers — Dwight Hardy, Paris Horne, DJ Kennedy and Justin Brownlee — all graduated. Its fifth starter, Dwayne Polee Jr., transferred to San Diego State in the offseason.

Lavin was able to soften the blow of losing all five starters by landing the No. 3 recruiting class in the country last year, according to Rivals.com. But even after enticing some of the nation’s top recruits, Lavin’s challenges weren’t over as Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and Jakarr Sampson were ruled ineligible for the fall semester.

Even after the loss of that trio, Lavin has a plethora of young talent to choose from, including junior college transfer God’s Gift Achiuwa, who is leading the Red Storm with 17.7 points and 8.3 rebounds through three games.

Lavin starts five first-time Division I players. The Red Storm has immense talent, but like the Wildcats, St. John’s is far from a finished product.

“You’d prefer to have more practices, more time with your team, but there is some value in playing games like this weekend’s because you do get a report card on where your team is, and it gives you enough time between now and the start of conference play to the right the ship,” Lavin said.

2K Sports Classic has personal meaning to Lavin

Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 2010, and underwent surgery to treat the cancer on Oct. 6. After missing the Red Storm’s season opener, Lavin is back with the team and needless to say, the 47-year-old head coach has a personal connection to the 2K Sports Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic.

Not only is Lavin a cancer survivor, he’s dealt with the disease his entire life. His grandmother died of pancreatic cancer, his father had both prostate and skin cancer, and his niece lost an eye due to cancer.

“This week naturally has significance on a personal level because of the family history of having to battle cancer because across the board, that six degrees aspect affects all people in this world when it comes to the dreaded disease,” Lavin said.

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