Jim Lynam, who left American University Tuesday night after five seasons to become basketball coach at St. Joseph's College, said yesterday AU's lack of an on-campus home court was a major factor in his decision to change jobs.

Although both schools are in the East Coast Conference, Lynam said he considered his new job a step up because "you can do more there than I've been able to accomplish at AU in terms of facilities."

AU in upper Northwest Washington, plays its home games at Ft. Myer in Virginia. Plans for a new field-house to replace the bankbox on-campus Leonard Center have been on the drawing board for at least 25 years.

St. Joseph's has a 2,800-seat gym on campus and plays at the Palestra in Big Five doubleheaders.

A local joke at AU has been that the basketball staff shows potential recruits the new $7 million library now under construction and tells them that it is the new field house.

"We show them Ft. Myer," said Lynam, still talking about AU in the present tense although he was in Philadelphia. "I don't go around it. You have to hope and sell what are your strong features. The player has to have confidence in you and see the positive factors to overcome Ft. Myer. No one will argue that Ft. Myer is a negative factor.

"If Ft. Myer were a campus gym, no one would say anything about it. It didn't stop them (AU) from having a good program before I was there, when I was there and it shouldn't stop them now that I've left. It does make it difficult to sustain a good program."

Asked if he would have stayed if AU built a field house, Lynam said, "It's conjecture at this point, and a problem I can appreciate. The question to ask is when. It might have been a different result if I could see a definite response to that question."

Lynam, a graduate of St. Joseph's will sign a multiyear contract at an unspecified salary at St. Joe, where his brother-in-law and former AU assistant coach, Don DiJulia, is athletic director. Lynam said the decision to leave AU was "the most difficult and the easiest I've ever had to make."

"I was very, very happy at American U.," Lynam said. "I couldn't ask for more cooperation and couldn't be more fond of the group of players we had and were returning. That was the crux of the decision - to say no to them."

Last season's team was 16-12, giving Lynam a 70-61 record, with only one losing season. Almost every player is returning, plus three transfer students will become eligible.

So what made it so easy to leave? Playing at Ft. Myer?

"You look at the pluses. From this (the St. Joe) side of the issue, that looms. To foster spirit is essential, and we play games at the Palestra. To come back to hometown, where my parents live and where my wife is from is important. And it was an opportunity I might not have in the near future.

"The bottom line is? If I can be as happy here in the next five years as I was in five years at AU, I did the right thing. I hope that will be the case."

Bob Frailey AU's athletic director, said he would move to get a new coach "in an absolute minimum amount of time, but as long as it takes me to get a good coach.

"I've done my homework, a lot of it," Frailey said. "Didn't I kind of expect this? It wasn't a surprise. Am I disappointed? Yes. Anybody would be disappointed to lose a man the caliber of Lynam."