Q + A with St. John's basketball legend Chris Mullin

For tonight's St. John's/ Seton Hall game, ESPN has added Chris Mullin to the evening's broadcast (7 PM eastern time on ESPN2 - game preview coming). St. John's fans, of course, know him well.

For those who don't know:

Chris Mullin is the most celebrated Redmen player in recent memory - a three-time All American, a Wooden Award winner, an Olympic Gold Medal winner in 1984 and 1992 with the "Dream Team", a longtime NBA star with the Golden State Warriors - we loved "Run TMC" (video link) in high school - and with the Indiana Pacers as well. He was a five-time NBA all star, and also served as General Manager to the Golden State Warriors for five years.

Mullin was recently elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, and is a finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame this year.

And if you don't know, now you know.

Chris Mullin was kind enough to give 20 minutes of his time to talk about the resurgence of the St. John's program (and his excitement about it), Steve Lavin's charisma, the current players' fortitude, how college basketball has changed, how Brooklyn and Queens have changed, and which St. John's legend Dwayne Polee II reminds him of.

Thanks to ESPN and Chris Mullin for coordinating this phone interview. Photo of Mullin in his young Golden State Warriors days (pre-crew cut) below is courtesy of Getty Images. Mullin's thoughts, below the fold.

 

What do you think that Steve Lavin is doing so well with the Red Storm? How has he got this class of players to be winners?

CM: Steve Lavin, he's a very charismatic personality. He's got great experience coming from UCLA; he's well prepared to come to a school like St. John's with the great history! He was already at probably the most historic college basketball program. So he's well prepared.

As far as the team right now, I think the biggest thing is their confidence. I talked to Steve last week and he gave a lot of credit to Norm Roberts for the recruiting class that he inherited. Good athletes, and really good guys. With that in mind, the thing I see is that they're steadily improving. It seems like they're taking that next step, you know, where those close games they were losing? Now, for some reason, they've got the confidence - that kid Hardy has stepped up. It just seems like they're taking that next step.

It's good to see for the school, and I'm really happy for the players, because a lot of those players stuck it out through some tough times.

It is a great credit to them. You get beaten like that so many times, a lot of guys would just fold and quit, it takes a lot of fortitude to do that.

CM: You've gotta give them both a lot of credit. It's tough for a new coach coming in. Steve also said that he'd had the experience of being fired, and of also replacing somebody. He wasn't trying to do too much. Just really be honest, be straightforward, let the relationships with the players build.

Is there anything else in his coaching style that you think resonates with players?

CM: The style of play, I love. They're very aggressive defensively, they have a very aggressive trapping zone, and they like to play uptempo. Offensively and defensively, they like to force the issue. They've got some really good athletes, and I think it's a good fit for the team he has.

Have you talked to any of the older players about the job that Steve Lavin has done, have you talked to others who are excited about what's going on?

CM: I spent some time with Coach Carnesecca in the last few days, and he's very excited. And I'd say first and foremost that' the most important person that we're concerned about. Coach Carnesecca, Coach Kaiser, these guys have spent their whole life giving to St. John's, they're the ones who made it what it is. For them to see what's going on... it's more important for them.

Have you had a chance to see a lot of the St. John's players, a lot of St. John's games?

Mullin_warriors_2_medium
CM
: I saw their first game of the season, because it was out by my house, against St. Mary's. I've caught a few games here and there on TV - parts of the Duke game, parts of the Pitt game - I've been keeping up. It's hard not to, because they're getting big time coverage now.

The other thing too is that it's 18 or 19 wins, but they're quality wins, too.

Besides Dwight Hardy, what other players have you enjoyed watching? I love watching D.J. Kennedy play, for example, he does the little things, he's a really unselfish guy.

CM: I've always liked his all-around game. Multitalented, he's got nice size, he can handle the ball. I'm really happy for him. I talked to him the other day - he's a kid that left Pittsburgh, and he's a kid who left Pittsburgh. Some of the big guys are coming on pretty good. Brownlee, some of the big guys, they've filled in nicely.

I like the kid Polee, he looks like he's going to be a wonderful player. I played against his dad, as a matter of fact in high school. His dad was a heck of a player, I think he's going to be a heck of a player himself. He looks like a young Malik Sealy to me. Same type of body, and comes from a good pedigree. I'm excited to watch him grow.

How far do you think they can go in the tournament?

CM: Look, that's why they call it madness. A hot team is a dangerous team. And right now, St. John's is as hot as anybody. I don't want to put a jinx on them, I hope they just keep playing the way they are, and they keep that momentum. Should be enjoyable to watch. It's been a good ride so far, and I hope it can continue. Could they win 4 games in a row? They've showed that they could beat 4 of the best teams in the country [already]. So yes they can.

Now, how that shakes out on a given night?  That's why we all tune in.

The culture of college basketball - how do you think it's changed since you were a player?  And what are the biggest changes in the game?

CM: The recruiting part... it's more detailed. I remember when I was coming out of high school, they used to hand papers around with the scouting reports. Now, my son's a junior in high school, he goes on the websites every night - there's the rankings and the videos of guys. I think it's just the natural evolution of technology that's available everywhere, it's a big part of sports now, too.

The game itself... when I was in college, we didn't have the three-point line, or the shot clock. The three-point line has had a pretty dramatic effect, I think, over time. It's something that you really base your offense around. Either you use it, obviously, to score points, or you use it for spacing. It's an important tool because... If you use it the right way, it's a great weapon. And if you abuse it, it becomes really detrimental.

The one thing I think it has taken away from a little bit of creativity individually. Guys seem to run to the three point line, or try to get all the way to the hole. There's not a whole lot of guys who can play without the ball or work off screens. You don't see as much of the mid-range game, or even playing inside the three-point line without the ball. It's the same in the NBA.

I'm sure you're heard about Jimmer Fredette. What do you think about his game? Do you think he can play in the NBA?

CM: Yeah I do. A guy who shoots the ball as deep as he does - and I haven't seen him in person, only watched him on TV - I think he handles the ball well, he's strong. He has a big strong body. I think he's an underrated passer. Like most, except for the superstar guys, depending on what team he gets to, that has a lot to do with his success.

But a guy that can score and shoot the ball like him? There's always a place on any level for a guy like that.

You gotta make shots, right?

CM: No doubt, that's always what I was told.

This question's about parity in college basketball. Noting that there seems to be fewer of those long dynasties - you know, there's probably not going to be another UCLA streak, for example - there's just not dynasties in college hoops these days and it's hard for programs to stay on top. Do you think it's because there are better coaches, or more good players spread around?

CM: Well first of all, let's not forget about the U Conn women, now! Coach Auriemma will come looking for both of us!

I won't say anything bad about his program!

CM: I think that the main reason for [parity] - the really really top players don't spend a lot of time in college. I think that's the main reason. The coaches are as good as they've been, there's great talent that comes out of high school all the time. But the really really  top guys, they'll probably spend a year, maybe two. So there's a lot more turnover. I don't think it's good or bad. I think that's the main reason.

It's just a thing.

CM: I think it's just the turnover. I'm watching the Knicks now, Carmelo spent one year, won a a championship, and moved on. So guys like that, who may be, in the 80's, it just wasn't in vogue to leave or it wasn't really worth it financially. They stayed around longer, so it helps build your program.

Do you have any opinion about the idea of players going one-and-done or players going straight to the NBA, or do you think they should make the rule two-and-done?

CM: Nah - it's going to be discussed, obviously, in the collective bargaining agreement coming up. That's a tough topic. You can't please everybody. But when they've decided, and weighed all those variables, I think what everyone wants is that they're successful not only during their playing careers if they're blessed enough to have one, but more importantly after their careers. That's what everyone wants for these young players.

Have you had a chance to go around Queens and Brooklyn - do you ever have a chance to go back to your old haunts? I know when I go back, I see a completely different place from where I grew up.

CM: I was out in Queens today, I actually had coffee with Coach [Carnesecca], right on Union Turnpike. My general feel is - New York has gotten better. Everywhere I go I feel - yeah, there may be some changes, but... for example, St. John's campus, it's grown, it's got more facilities, more stores around - it looks like it's gotten better.

If I go out to Brooklyn - Brooklyn's like the hottest place in the city right now. I love growing up where I did in Brooklyn, I loved going to St. John's, but I think it's all gotten better. It looks like it's continued to grow and thrive. I always love coming back.

Whenever I go back - I live in Chicago now - but I go back to Brooklyn and... I mean it was getting a little fancy when I left, but I go back and - wow.

CM: Well, when I was growing up there in the 70's, it was a tough place. I went to high school in Manhattan for a couple of years, and even kids in Manhattan didn't want to come out to Brooklyn.

Best player you faced in college?

CM: Patrick Ewing. And then Michael Jordan, but I only played him twice. But as far as face to face, and repeatedly playing, Patrick Ewing, no doubt.

Thanks again to Chris Mullin and ESPN for coordinating and scheduling the interview.

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