New Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap won’t be easy for St. John’s to replace

Whereas Steve Lavin often drew criticism at UCLA for hiring assistants with skill sets and backgrounds too similar to his own, the third-year St. John's coach did not make the same mistake in his second gig.

Tony Chiles and Moe Hicks brought the strong ties to New York-area basketball that Lavin initially lacked. Rico Hines excelled as a skill developer yet was young enough to have an older brother relationship with players on the team. And Mike Dunlap served as Lavin's primary tactician and disciplinarian.

There's a void in that formidable staff now thanks to Dunlap's departure Monday night. Dunlap, who had long been searching for a college head coaching job, instead landed an NBA gig, taking over as new coach of the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.

"The Johnnies basketball family is ecstatic for Coach Dunlap's opportunity," Lavin said in a statement Monday night. "Mike's selection as the Charlotte Bobcats' head coach is a well-deserved honor. To make the unprecedented jump from college assistant to NBA head coach is testament to both Mike's abilities as a teacher and our basketball program's marked improvement over the past 27 months."

Filling Dunlap's seat with another stern strategist will be critical to Lavin's efforts to continue to build St. John's into an upper-echelon Big East program.

[Related: Bobcats hire St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap as head coach]

Dunlap built a reputation as one of the elite Xs-and-Os coaches in the nation as a head coach at two-time Division II national champion Metro State and as an assistant at Arizona, Oregon and with the Denver Nuggets. Then last season, he did a very credible job holding an undermanned St. John's team together while Lavin was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery.

"Dunlap would really put us on the line if we yawned in practice. At 545 am!!!," former St. John's forward Maurice Harkless tweeted. "And (he) would kick the managers out if they yawned. ... Dunlap a great coach, better person. Strong passion and is dedicated to the game more than any coach I've had. No doubt he'll be successful."

The good news for Lavin is he should have a short list of top assistants ready since Dunlap had been looking for a head coaching opportunity since even before he joined the St. John's staff.

Whoever the new hire is he should be a disciplinarian who balances out Lavin's easygoing persona and a tactician who lends a hand in game preparation. In other words, he should complement Lavin the way Dunlap did.

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