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Keeping Up With SJU’s Norm Roberts

In high school gyms, in airports and diners, the Springfield Gardens native is attempting to tell whoever is willing to listen that things will be different, which is exactly what the St. John's fans want to hear after last year's embarrassment both on and off the court.Last Thursday TimesLedger Sports Editor Dylan Butler sat down with Roberts in his new office and spoke about the former Queens College coach's first four months on the job, about what will surely be a difficult and lengthy rebuilding process and what it's like for a kid from Queens to be coaching one of the most storied - albeit recently damaged - programs in college basketball.DB: Have you had a day yet since you were introduced as the new St. John's coach to stop moving?NR: It's been real exciting. It's been a lot of fun. We've tried to work very hard in just being diligent to get to everybody - and you cannot get to everybody - but we tried to reach out to as many people as possible to let them know what we want to do, what our future is, what we see the program being years from now, just trying to get people to get more familiar with us as a staff and me as a coach.DB: If you could choose a few adjectives to describe your first few months on the job, what would they be?NR: Hectic, exciting, enthusiastic, fun.DB: Has the reality set in (that you are the St. John's head coach) or will that come with the first game?NR: I think the reality set in that I'm here. I think it will be even better for me and my family once we can get settled on a home and we're working on those things right now. Everything has happened so quickly, but I think I'm getting more and more acclimated to everything. The reality that I am the coach here is settling in somewhat, but obviously when you're out there coaching the team it will be more of a reality.DB: You've gone to great lengths to change the perception or the image, to show that this is a different St. John's than in the past. Is it more difficult to do that internally with the players, with the New York sports fans or within the New York City basketball community (high schools and AAU programs)?NR: What we've tried to do is tell people what we're about, what we're trying to do. Our players have been good; they've worked hard. I wouldn't say they're used to me because they're not. It's all new to them, but I think they're starting to understand where my focus is, what I think is important and what I think is important to my program. From the high school coaches and the AAU coaches I would hope that they can't say that we're not working hard. We're working hard, we're trying to be there and be visible and be on the phone (and) we're trying to be visible to the kids.St. John's went through a rough time last year, but when you look at the overall picture of the last 30 years, St. John's has unbelievable tradition and what we all have to be careful of, be it everybody who is looking at this situation, is not to judge St. John's on one year. I think everybody has so much focus on last year, which was a bad situation at that time, but I think people are forgetting the great tradition, the great players and the great people they've had at this institution. I don't think we should let a couple of bad years where they weren't at the level that they have been overshadow what a terrific program and what a terrific institution this is.DB: You're a New Yorker and you know the fan base that is in the city. Do you think the New York sports fan, the college basketball fan here will have the patience because, obviously, things aren't going to change overnight?NR: I think our fans want to win now, I want to win now and we're going to do everything we can possibly to do that. I think we're going to be able to surprise some people - hopefully - and be better than what some people may think. People want the winning to happen right away and I think it's a process; it's a learning situation. I think our guys are going to get better day to day. When you're trying to build a program you cannot look too far ahead because when you look too far ahead you forget about what's going on in the now. What we're trying to do is basically think about the now and try to get better every single day.DB: Do you ever get the chance to sit back and look around this room and think, 'wow, I'm the St. John's coach.'NR: I've maybe done that once, but it's been so busy and we've tried to do so much and we've tried to work so hard (that) the times I have had some free time I've really tried hard to be with my family. When I do have some free time, I'd rather be with my two little boys playing ball in the park and be with my wife than do anything else. That's just the way I am. I'm not a big-time glitzy person.DB: Is it harder to be a New Yorker coaching St. John's and do you think it's more rewarding when you reach your goals because you know what St. John's is about being a guy from Queens?NR: I think it's both. People might say, 'well, you're a new guy, so let's wait and see,' but I'm a guy who's from here so people are like, 'c'mon let's get it done right now. Let's make it happen right away.' But I also think that the people here have really tried hard to embrace me like I've tried to embrace them, so I think in the end it can be so much more rewarding. I think the reason why people loved St. John's was because Louie (Carnesecca) was New York City, too. I think people were more endeared to St. John's because of Coach Carnesecca and hopefully in the years that pass they'll feel that way about me.DB: What do you think will be the hardest part of your job?NR: I don't know yet. I think everyday I'm learning, everyday I'm trying to get better at my job, everyday I'm trying to be more diligent and consistent with everything I do, so to say what is the hardest part yet - I don't know. I haven't gone through a whole year. I would bet I could answer that question better when a year is gone.DB: The month of July is such a busy month (in terms of recruiting). Do you enjoy that month?NR: I think it's an exciting month and I do enjoy it because you can finally get to watch them play basketball. Do I enjoy the travel? Nobody enjoys the travel, but I do enjoy watching the games, seeing the players and watching the competition. But the driving and going to different places and being in gyms from 8'o clock in the morning to 1'o clock in the morning is not great but it beats sitting in an office all day.Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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