Coming into the season, expectations were that Federico Mussini would play off the ball at the shooting guard position with Marcus LoVett taking over the main ball handling duties as the lead guard. Instead, LoVett was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, forcing the Italian freshman, who was still adjusting to the speed of American basketball, to play heavy minutes while leading other inexperienced players against some high quality basketball teams.
Playing out of position and going head-to-head versus some of the best guards in the country (Kris Dunn, Isaiah Whitehead, Yogi Ferrell and Mo Watson), the 6'1" Mussini has progressed, taking his role in stride and has shown head coach Chris Mullin why he is an important building block for the next three seasons.
"He's been great from day one," Mullin said about Mussini during the Big East coaches conference call on Thursday. "He's a great worker, tremendous teammate and he has a high basketball IQ. He's had some really good games and some tough games, but no matter what goes on he comes to work hard and he's very diligent.
"He's going to be very successful throughout his career at St. John's. He is (currently) handling big minutes, probably too many, but in the long run it will be good experience for him."
Mussini needs to improve his strength in order to deal with the physical play within the Big East, but his shooting prowess has caught many opponents by surprise. Syracuse head coach Mike Hopkins said that Mussini was hitting "Stephen Curry like shots" after the Johnnies shocked the Jim Boeheim-less Orange at the Garden back in mid-December. Then he nearly led the Red Storm to a victory over Xavier, hitting five threes and putting up 19 points. The freshman is leading the team in scoring and without Yankuba Sima, has been the engine that makes St. Johns' run.
The more minutes he receives the more he will diversify his game, continue to develop a rapport with his teammates and try to work on his defense.
"Ideally I would love to manage his minutes," Mullin said. "On the flip side of that, this is a great experience for him moving forward. It's the balance of trying to manage the minutes and get him experience. Quite frankly, 31 or 32 minutes, I don't see it as really physically taxing for young players."
Though the minutes may not be taxing, the losing has weighed on each and every player on the St. John's roster. But one thing is for sure, Mussini is well respected and no one is pointing fingers at the freshman.
"He's going to be phenomenal," Ron Mvouika said after Mussini put on a show against the Musketeers before picking up a brutal technical foul. "I'm not going to be here to see it but there aren't a lot of 18 year old guys who come from another country and run a team in the Big East for 35 minutes as a point guard. He's going to make mistakes but I'm proud of him. I'm very impressed and he's going to keep getting better and better and better."