Thirty years after Chris Mullin helped build the Big East conference into a juggernaut and St. John’s into one of the conference’s perennial powerhouse programs, it was announced on Wednesday that the sharp-shooting, slick-talking, Brooklyn-born ball buster will shun NBA opportunities on the West Coast and return to St. John’s as the coach of the men’s basketball team .
Mullin took St. John’s to the Final Four in 1985 and was drafted seventh over all that year by the Golden State Warriors, with whom he played until 1997. The buzzcut bomber averaged over 20 points per game in 13 seasons, before playing his final three campaigns with the Indian Pacers.
Mullin is still the university’s career scoring leader with 2,440 career points,balling from 1981-85 under Hall of Fame coach Louie Carnesecca. Mullin was the East Coast version of Larry Bird and led St. John’s to four-straight NCAA Tournaments. Very few cats could chuck it like “Mully,” who shot from NBA three-point range with regularity in college. I'm talking about the Big East "Golden Era," before treys were even counted.
The hire is a big score for the St. John’s PR department, but some basketball purists are criticizing the move because Mullin, 51, has no coaching experience at any level. After retiring from the N.B.A. in 2001, he was the Warriors’ executive vice president for basketball operations from 2004 to 2009. More recently, he was an adviser for the Sacramento Kings.
Now he is set to inherit the Red Storm from Steve Lavin, who agreed to part ways with St. John’s on Friday, a week after his second N.C.A.A. tournament appearance in five years.
This SJU roster will lose four of its top six scorers because of graduation, and the statuses of two other players — Rysheed Jordan, who could enter the N.B.A. draft , and Chris Obekpa, who was suspended from the team for blazing trees — remain in doubt.
That’s why people have to understand that Mullin’s first few years will be about re-establishing a culture. Re-connecting with disinterested alumni and fans who have lost that loving feeling for Carnesecca Arena. Fans who are even more lost since the "original" Big East disbanded and a basketball brotherhood defined by specific principles became a moshpit of contrasting basketball philosophies.
Not about winning a bunch of games. He surely wants to win. He knows that in order to accomplish that, he has to get the home grown talent to stay home. But he also wants to restore an excitement and intensify the program’s national value and visibility in the process.
Opponents of the move say Mullin's impact three decades ago won't hold any weight with the modern day athlete when it comes to recruiting. Names such as Patrick Ewing and Walter Berry are no more than ghosts of basketball past to most teen ballers because in their minds such players are from a mythical time when the Northeast ruled the basketball landscape. It's like me reflecting on the Vikings.
On the other hand, the kids of today can always Google “Mullin” and his exploits with St. John’s and those classic Big East battles with Georgetown, Syracuse and other formidable Big East foes if they need confirmation of his greatness.
What does St. John’s have to lose? Why not go with the guy who is used to not looking the part – just playing his position like an all-time great. When he was a three-time All-American at St. John’s, Mullin looked more like a prep school truant than a master basketball chemist. During his NBA days, at first glance he looked like a staff sergeant in the army, rather than one of the game’s dopest ballers. The kid with the gift from The Planet Brooklyn fooled everybody.
Remember how nasty he was with the original Dream Team and as a deadly member of Run TMC (along with Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond) one of the most prolific scoring trios in NBA history? Why wouldn’t Mullin rise above expectations as a coach?
The terms of the agreement were not immediately clear, but Mullin is expected to earn at least $2 million a year with St. John’s, according to another person with knowledge of the deal.
Being able to keep the top NYC recruits at home and sell St. John’s and the snowy NYC winters to warm-weather wunderkinds will be the key to Mullin’s success as a coach. Being that he’s out of touch with the city’s AAU flow and doesn’t have established ties with the new coaches, his first higher as coach shows that he’s serious about penetrating the recruiting market and making an impact.
The Missing Link
Before the St. John’s legend was even officially introduced, he hired recruiting guru Matt Abdelmassih from Iowa State to join his staff.
The 30-year-old Brooklyn native is not only a 2007 St. John’s graduate and one-time team manager, he played a major role in helping the Iowa State Cyclones get back in the March Madness, money-making mix under coach Fred Hoiberg over the last five years.
“It’s surreal,” Abdelmassih said in a phone interview with The NY Post before flying back to New York. “Eight years ago, I was walking around that campus as a student. To be coming to a place I absolutely love is incredible. This is the one job I always said I would come walking back to. I’m honored [Chris] called me to be a part of his staff. I know it’s the start of big things.”
Abdelmassih is a Don in Northeast recruiting circles and is known for his ability to snag impact transfers and his “people” skills are top notch. He was responsible for landing players such as DeAndre Kane, Royce White and Dustin Hogue at Iowa State.
“We want to foster a relationship where the city kids are expected to go to St. John’s,” Abdelmassih said. “In the 1990s, there was that expectation level. That’s what we want to get back to.”
Scout.com national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels called it a “tremendous hire” that gives Mullin’s staff “credibility” on the recruiting front.
“Mullin needed to hire someone with strong connections in the Northeast and he’s getting a guy that can help them in that area,” Daniels said.
I happened to just finish speaking with my Fanalyst sports partner Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, when the Mullin deal became official. Phife quickly reflected on what Mullin means to St. John’s University and the culture of New York basketball overall.
“ He was white, slow and decent on D, but that shot was money. He just had the clutch gene,” said the hip-hop legend. “Mully was a fearless Brooklyn dude, who buss' many a black ass on the playgrounds of NYC. When you needed a big shot Mullin took it. He’s like the Jerry West of The Big East. Just clutch. Like Eminem, he don’t look the part but he plays it as good as anybody”
That’s all St. Johns needs him to do.