Whitesell Returns To Help SJU Hoops Team

By his own admission, Jim Whitesell is getting back to something he has been removed from for several years, as he begins his first season as an assistant for the men’s basketball team at St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin.

“It’s certainly an adjustment,” said Whitesell, after the Red Storm’s 73-57 win over Wagner at Carnesecca Arena on Friday night. “St. Louis was a bigger adjustment. You’re used to calling the decisions. It’s enjoyable to sometimes sit back and be in charge of specific things. It’s a good perspective on what Coach Lavin goes through on a daily basis.”

Jim Whitesell

Jim Whitesell

“I just tell him what’s working,” said Whitesell. “You don’t want to talk too much as an assistant. The coach already knows what he wants to tell his team.”

As an assistant, Whitesell has the ear of the head coach. With St. John’s up by eight early against a scrappy Wagner Seahawks squad, Steve Lavin had a quick word with his new assistant coach before he addressed his team in the huddle. St. John’s scored the next eight points on its way to a double-digit win.

Whitesell is enjoying his first year on the sidelines for the Red Storm, after spending the last two at St. Louis University. Before that, Whitesell spent 24 years as a head coach, winning 375 games. He won games in four different decades as head coach at three different schools in Illinois (Elmhurst, Lewis and Loyola).

Steve Lavin met his new assistant back in the 90s through Jim’s brother Patrick, who worked out of LA and saw Lavin at Lakers games. When there was an opening for an assistant, Lavin figured he knew a good fit, saying “He’s an excellent teacher who’s very patient in working with young people.”

Whitesell and his wife have grown accustomed to New York.

“I have five brothers, and three of them lived in Manhattan at one time or another,” Whitesell said, speaking of his family that is in the entertainment industry, as writers, directors, actors or agents.

He is also being influenced by Coach Lavin.

“Steve is so good with people. He challenges them, encourages them. He’s really positive. He really teaches them,” Whitesell said, citing the attention to detail shown by Lavin, and the motivation he receives. “Last Sunday, he was telling the team, we need to work better at our craft, whether it’s playing or coaching.”

- David Russell