Steve Lavin had every reason to pull for USF as a Marin County teenager in the 1970s. The Dons men’s basketball team played on national TV, made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1977 and the gym was usually packed to capacity. He idolized Bill Cartwright, Chubby Cox and Winford Boynes, but he wasn’t around to watch the Don who’s left the biggest imprint on his life.
“No one can appreciate the history and tradition of USF basketball more than someone who’s the son of a Hall of Famer,” Lavin said.
Albert “Cap” Lavin, 82, will watch his son coach against his alma mater when St. John’s meets the Dons at War Memorial Gymnasium tonight. Steve Lavin’s first game on the sideline at USF will be particularly memorable because his father is being honored at halftime.
“It will be kind of neat,” Cap Lavin said. “I can say, ‘Let’s go out to Bill’s Place and have a milkshake
Cap Lavin perfected his jump shot at the Outer Richmond’s Rochambeau Playground in the 1940s. He was an All-City guard at St. Ignatius High School and went on to play for Pete Newell and Phil Woolpert at USF in the 1950s.
Steve Lavin, 48, inherited his father’s passion for basketball. He wasn’t the most talented player, but he worked hard, studied the game and acted as a coach for a Sir Francis Drake High School team that won state titles in 1981 and ’82.
But he also shared his father’s love of art, literature and ideas. Cap Lavin taught English at UC Berkeley and Drake. He also co-founded the Bay Area Writing Project, a model for the National Writing Project, and authored 17 books about writing.
Consequently, Steve Lavin was as comfortable analyzing John McPhee and citing Henry David Thoreau growing up as he was setting a screen or taking a charge.
“His teachers recognized his special ability to break down, to analyze,” Cap Lavin said. “His curiosity stood out at a young age.”
Steve Lavin played basketball at San Francisco State and Chapman University in Orange County. He set his sights on becoming a coach, but his father wasn’t completely sold.
“I wanted to point out that he had these other talents and he should not put them under a bushel,” Cap Lavin said.
But his son went forward, writing letters to his favorite coaches for advice. Purdue’s Gene Keady took him under his wing as a graduate assistant coach in 1988 and he snagged a similar position at UCLA in 1991. Steve Lavin climbed the ranks at Westwood, and at 32, he was named interim coach after Jim Harrick was ousted in 1996.
Steve Lavin led the Bruins to five Sweet 16 appearances in six years, but was fired after a 10-19 season in 2002-03. He spent the next seven years broadcasting for ESPN before taking the helm at St. John’s in 2010.
But Steve Lavin missed most of last season while recovering from prostate cancer and leaned on his father, a survivor himself.
“I was really blessed to have that ear and to have it be my father’s ear,” he said.
Steve Lavin feels rejuvenated this season. And his father thinks he’s right where he’s meant to be.
“He was born with a gift for teaching,” Cap Lavin said. “He has patience and certainly more kindness than most coaches today.”