Lavin Sets a Positive Course

Steve Lavin, criticized, humiliated and eventually fired as UCLA's basketball coach March 17, is feeling pretty good these days. In fact, he said he has a lot to be thankful for as he embarks on a career in sports broadcasting.

But his new job with ESPN is not the only reason he is feeling gratitude during this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. He looks back on his time at UCLA as a positive experience.

"I had the opportunity to spend 12 years at UCLA, seven as the head coach," he said. "I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. Yet it has been refreshing to step back and see the world and basketball through a wider angle lens."

Lavin, 39, takes positive thinking to a new level.

"After I was fired, people would come up to me and ask, 'You doing OK?' " he said, "I told them I was fine, that I was doing great."

Lavin at first wasn't sure what he was going to do, but it wasn't long before ESPN expressed interest in him. Through former UCLA quarterback David Norrie, a college football commentator for ABC, Lavin found a sports broadcast agent, Bob Rosen.

After that, only details had to be worked out. After the first of the year, when his schedule will be more set, Lavin will generally work as a studio analyst Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and as a game commentator on weekends.

For now, Lavin will be doing a little more game commentating. He will work Illinois at Temple on ESPN2 on Saturday, North Carolina State at Michigan on ESPN2 on Tuesday and Georgia Tech at Ohio State on ESPN on Wednesday.

It's not all that surprising that Lavin ended up in television. As a kid growing up in Marin County, he would take his tape recorder to Candlestick Park and announce San Francisco Giant games while sitting high up in the stands.

When he went on vacations with his family, he and older sister Suzanne would do mock interviews in the back seat. In high school, he took journalism classes and wrote for the school paper.

A career in sports broadcast journalism seemed to be beckoning. But there was basketball too. Lavin played in a highly successful program at Drake High in San Anselmo, where his teams in 1981 and '82 won two state titles and went 65-1.

Lavin went off to San Francisco State to play basketball and study broadcast journalism. He transferred to Chapman after his sophomore year.

It was during his sophomore year at San Francisco State that Lavin's love for basketball won out over his love for broadcasting. He told his father, Cap, that he wanted to be a coach.

Cap Lavin knew something about basketball and coaching. He had been a star in the early 1950s at the University of San Francisco, where he had played for coaching legends Pete Newell and Phil Woolpert.

He had coached high school basketball for four years before deciding to devote all of his energy to a teaching career that would span 43 years.

"Steve and I sat down to talk," Cap said in a telephone interview. "I told Steve about all the negatives of coaching, the pressures, the disappointments and the lack of job security.

"At first, I think, he felt that I was telling him not to go into coaching. But that wasn't what I was telling him. I was just preparing him for that profession."

But did he want his son to pursue broadcasting rather than coaching?

"Yes, I think I did," Cap said.

Lavin's mother, Mary, says her son will do well in broadcasting.

"He always had original thoughts and a unique perspective on things," she said.

Lavin can already see the advantages of his new career.

"You sleep better at night, you wake up with more energy and the only concern after a game is where you're going to get something to eat," he said.

So is broadcasting his future, or does he still want to go back into coaching?

Reciting something he learned from John Wooden, Lavin said, "Don't focus on the future. Focus on today and how to get to tomorrow. You have no control over yesterday, and no control over tomorrow. You can only control today."

A Second Strike

Part-time radio sports talk show host Dave Smith for the last two years has run a Web site, thesportsgod.com, that caters to gamblers. It was reported in this space last week that a column appearing on the Web site under the name, the Mole, read exactly like a TV sports column that had appeared in New York Newsday.

Smith said he called the Newsday TV columnist, Steve Zipay, to apologize for the plagiarism and also said he had fired the Mole. But he declined to name him.

Over the weekend, an e-mail arrived from David Barron, TV sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle, saying he too had a column plagiarized by the Mole on Smith's Web site. It happened in June.

Barron said Smith called to apologize and said it wouldn't happen again.

A former partner with Smith on the Web site, Ronnie Ortiz, said Smith is the Mole. Tony Tellez, the site's Webmaster, and Tomm Looney, who used to write for the Web site, said they don't know who the Mole is. Smith denied he is the Mole.

Smith might want to consider putting a real byline on the column, or getting rid of it altogether. Or, better yet, get rid of the Web site. It sure isn't doing much to help Smith's already shaky reputation.

Mourning After

John Thompson, Alonzo Mourning's coach at Georgetown who now works for TNT, interviewed Mourning on Sunday, three hours before the player learned he needed a kidney transplant. Thompson then appropriately went back to Tenafly, N.J., the next day to interview Mourning again after he had announced his retirement. The interview was shown on TNT on Thursday.

"There's a disappointment there because I still feel there's an emptiness in my career that just wasn't filled," Mourning told Thompson. "It's unfortunate, but trust me, things could have been a lot worse.... I'm 33 years old and want to live to be at least 80. I want to see my kids grow up and I want to see my grandkids."

Regarding his family, Mourning said, "I've got to stop playing this heroic role and understand that my life is the most important thing here, not winning championships. My life, living for them, not for the NBA or the New Jersey Nets, but for my wife, my kids, my family."

ESPN commentator Sean Elliott, who has had a kidney transplant, believes there is a chance Mourning could come back, as Elliott did with the San Antonio Spurs.

"I wanted to play the day after my transplant," Elliott said. "I felt terrific. I didn't know how energy-depleted I had become. After the transplant, it was like a light switch going on. If I did it, Alonzo can do it."

Short Waves

Tonight's Laker game against San Antonio will be televised by Fox Sports Net and is also the second game of an ESPN doubleheader. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers play in the first game. The Lakers' Devean George will be featured on ESPN's "NBA Shootaround" pregame show at 4:30 p.m. ESPN has referred to George as "the fifth Beatle." ... Marge Hearn and Zeus Ayter, USC student and Chick Hearn scholarship winner, will appear on Fox Sports Net's "Lakers Live" pregame show at 7 p.m.

KLAC pre- and post-game show host Larry Burnett, who filled in for play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers on the Laker radio broadcast last Sunday night, did a marvelous job. He sounded as if he's been doing play by play for years. ... Keyshawn Johnson will not be back on Fox's NFL pre-game show Sunday, but a network spokesman said he will make two or three more appearances before the end of the season.

On CBS today at 10:30 a.m., Verne Lundquist is the host of a special that selects the 10 greatest teams in college football history.... USA's "PGA Tour Sunday" on Sunday at 9 a.m. will offer a round-table discussion on who is the PGA Tour's player of the year.

In Closing

Have we really been putting up with Joe McDonnell and Doug Krikorian on KSPN for three years? Apparently so. They will celebrate their anniversary by doing their show Monday from -- where else? -- Phil Trani's restaurant in Long Beach. The public is invited.

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