Former Loyola coach Jim Whitesell back in town as St. John’s assistant
BY TONI GINNETTI Staff Reporter January 13, 2014 9:26PM
Former Loyola coach Jim Whitesell returns to town as an assistant with St. John's to face DePaul on Tuesday. | Sun-Times
ST. JOHN’S AT DEPAUL
The facts: 6 p.m., Fox Sports 1, 670-AM.
Updated: February 15, 2014 6:25AM
It wasn’t hard for former Loyola coach Jim Whitesell to acclimate to New York when St. John’s coach Steve Lavin hired him as an assistant last fall.
The theatrical wing of the Whitesell family — including brother Chris, a longtime writer for ‘‘Days of Our Lives’’, movie director John and actor Sean — had spent plenty of time in the Big Apple.
‘‘They all said you’ll enjoy living there,’’ Whitesell said.
But Chicago was always home for Jim, who returns with the Red Storm (9-6, 0-3 Big East) to face DePaul (9-8, 1-3) on Tuesday.
Whitesell’s wife, Connie, still has her business here, and Whitesell’s parents still live here.
Whitesell spent more than 20 years as a head coach here, from Division III Elmhurst College (five seasons) to Division II Lewis University (12 seasons) to Loyola (seven seasons).
He had winning tenures at all three stops, including Loyola (109-107), where he guided the program to its last 20-win season (21-11 in 2006-07). But his run ended in the spring of 2011, when a new administration took over.
Lavin, who was fired from UCLA in 2003, was one of the few who took time to talk to Whitesell afterward.
‘‘It’s a tough situation to go through, and I certainly appreciated him doing that,’’ Whitesell said. ‘‘We stayed in touch and talked about [what could happen] if an opportunity ever came up.’’
First, though, was an opportunity to join Rick Majerus’ staff at Saint Louis — coincidentally to take the place of Porter Moser, who succeeded Whitesell at Loyola.
‘‘It was a big adjustment, the biggest certainly being learning where you can be helpful in a program because you’re not the guy in charge now,’’ he said. ‘‘Coach Majerus was great because he was looking for someone with experience. He knew what he wanted to do, but he’d bring in a different pair of eyes, and he blended experience with younger guys.’’
Whitesell and Jim Crews were assistants when the Billikens reached the third round of the NCAA tournament in 2012, and he assisted Crews last season when the Billikens returned to the third round in a season dedicated to the late Majerus.
‘‘It was a wonderful experience working with coach Majerus, and the last year was incredibly hard. But to see the kids come together and the great job coach Crews did, you learn so much. You worry so much about screens and rolls and academics, and then real life comes up and hits you,’’ said White-
sell, who went through the loss of one of his Loyola players, Anthony Smith, to leukemia in 2008.
Whitesell joined St. John’s in August.
‘‘Steve [Lavin] has great visions for St. John’s,’’ he said. ‘‘He sees great potential, and the kids like being around him. That’s the essence of why we all get into coaching. We like being around the kids and being part of a team.’’