St. John’s Red Storm (8-11) assistant coach Mike Dunlap probably won’t win the national coach of the year for his work in head coach Steve Lavin’s absence, but that doesn’t mean he’s not deserving of some consideration for it.
Most of the time, these awards go to those programs that show the most improvement in terms of wins and losses, and right now that would have to go to Indiana’s Tom Crean. Crean though actually laid the ground work the last few years with his recruiting efforts while the once-proud Hoosier program was under severe NCAA sanctions.
Dunlap, who previously guided NCAA Division II’s Metropolitan State College (Denver, Colo.) to three championship game appearances in his nine seasons there (1997–2006), has led a team with virtually no returning experience (only reserve Malik Stith’’ 3.3 points per game) to a pair of conference wins and several other close contests.
Two wins look pretty pale in comparison to their six conference losses, but considering the Red Storm start four freshman and have five in their seven-man rotation, it’s actually impressive. Their lone nonstarting freshman, forward Amir Garrett, has only been practicing for a few weeks. “It’ll literally take him another month to learn our playbook,” said Dunlap of Garrett.
After Saturday afternoon’s overtime loss to Villanova, even Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright, whose own team has no senior starters, was amazed at how young St. John’s team is. “We’re not that inexperienced,” said Wright.
Dunlap’s contributions were first noticed last year, when the Johnnies made their surprising run to the NCAA tournament with virtually the same roster that went just 17-16 the season before and for a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2002.Lavin, whose biggest strength while at UCLA from 1996–2003 may have been his recruiting (three times had a class ranked in the top two) clearly sought out a first-rate staff after taking some time off and it looks like he found it.