Yes, it sounds like an uneven trade on paper, but former St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap and De La Salle High School coach Frank Allocco actually have more traits in common than one might think.
Allocco, who a source confirmed remains the top candidate to fill the void on Steve Lavin's staff, has a reputation as a tactician, a master motivator and a proven developer of talent. Those are the roles Dunlap filled the last two years at St. John's and exactly the qualities the freshman- and sophomore-dominated program needs now that much of the heavy lifting in recruiting is done.
Although the 58-year-old Allocco has passed on previous opportunities to coach at the college level, there are plenty of reasons he'd find the opening at St. John's to be especially appealing. Allocco grew up in New Jersey, his faith is important to him, and he has a good relationship with Lavin from both their days in California.
In an effort to reveal how Allocco led football powerhouse De La Salle to 14 straight league championships in basketball, eight section titles and two California Division I state titles, Yahoo! Sports spoke with one of his former players. Santa Clara forward John McArthur, a 2010 graduate of De La Salle, raved about Allocco's motivational skills and ability to squeeze every drop of potential and effort out of his players.
JE: What was your initial reaction when you heard Coach Allocco might be leaving for St. John's? Were you excited? Disappointed?
JM: I was really excited for him. I know he's going to do really well at the next level, or any level he's at. It's not necessarily bittersweet — I'm really happy for him — but De La Salle basketball will never be the same without Coach Frank Allocco.
JE: I know he's had other opportunities to leave. What do you think intrigued him about this one more than most?
JM: New York. He's a big New Jersey guy. He grew up in New Jersey and played there. So him getting the opportunity to be in the Big East and New York, that's one of the things that got him thinking, 'If I'm going to do it, this is the time to do it.'
JE: Describe his strengths as a coach. What are some of the things he does well that have helped him build De La Salle into a perennial power?
JM: He's extremely passionate and he really motivates players to fulfill their full potential as players and as people as well. He cares so much about you that you don't have any option but to play hard for him. He's giving you everything he has, so you feel obligated to do the same for him. He knows how to communicate toward different players and exactly what they need. If he needs to call somebody out and say they're soft, he'll do it. But he can also pull somebody aside and talk to them to get them going. He's very good at reading players and becoming close with them so they don't want to let him down.
JE: What's an example from your time at De La Salle. How did he help motivate you?
JM: My senior year, six of our top seven guys had graduated and it was just me coming back. He said, 'John it's you and me against the world. Let's go shock the world.' I developed a bond with him and I devoted my senior year to not letting him down and not letting the school down. Even though we lost a huge chunk of our team the previous year, we got a lot farther than everyone expected. (De La Salle went 29-3 and made the NorCal Division I title game)
JE: Some of Mike Dunlap's biggest strengths were as a tactician and a player developer. How do you think Coach Allocco will do in those areas?
JM: I don't think I've ever met a man who works harder than him. He doesn't sleep, I swear. He's always up watching film, trying to figure out how to put players in a position to succeed. I think he'll bring that to the table. ... I know at De La Salle he has developed quite a program, and to be honest we didn't have the most talented team any year. We beat teams we had no business being in the same gym with. That came from developing players who came in and worked hard. That was his big thing was we were going to outwork everybody. We were going to beat you through playing harder and being more skilled than you. He had players who had no business being on the court with these big-time D-I guys and he kicked their butts up and down the floor.
JE: Would Coach Allocco have any difficulty translating what he does well from the high school to the college level?
JM: Older guys are a little more headstrong, but with Coach Allocco, his demeanor, his personality and his passion, people are going to respect him as soon as he gets there. I don't think there will be any problems.