Despite a slight resurgence under Steve Lavin, the St. John’s basketball program has been lackluster throughout the 21st century. St. John’s and the fanbase have been looking for solutions, and many felt the hiring of the program’s greatest modern player would be the ticket. So this season brought about optimism - which has come crashing down even before Big East play, due to a pair of losses at the hands of Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn.
Red Storm supporters and general fans around college basketball have been increasingly critical of Chris Mullin, and St. John’s basketball in general.
Just a few days ago, Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis outlined why St. John’s has a long battle back to relevancy. You can read in more detail about his piece here.
“...I think it’s fair to say that there is nothing to indicate this once-proud program is on the verge of a resurgence under second-year coach Chris Mullin. “
Statements like these from Davis mislead the actual situation in Queens. Similar stances have been taken by Red Storm fans who have critiqued Mullin’s interest in coaching (or even his sideline demeanor), and the overall direction of this program.
There is no excuse for losing to inferior teams like Delaware State and LIU Brooklyn, but at the same time it is just a step in one furious rebuild, one based on having a steady hand, not moon shots.
Chris Mullin and St. John’s doesn't deserve to be discounted because of previous failures, which have been plenty since 2000 - failures of talent, failures of dedication, failures of interest in the job at hand, dreams of players who were longshots but were thought of as saviors.
This program has been to the heights, reaching the 1985 Final Four behind the almighty Mullin and the steady, constant approach he brought to the game - and the steady hand of Lou Carnesecca, who molded talent into a league contender every season.
Mullin’s 13-30 record as a head coach is uninspiring, but to be frank, any fans who predicted much more than that are delusional.
Do not forget the mess Lavin left Mullin to sweep up in Queens. Only three players stuck with the program amid coaching change. In just four short months, the Johnnies staff scooped up nine competitive basketball players to round out their roster.
To look at a similar rebuild: Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun responded with a simple, “It’s doable”, in response to a question if UConn could be transformed into a major basketball school.
At that time in the mid-1980’s, St. John’s was led by the legendary Lou Carnesecca, in the middle of St. John’s peak. UConn was just a small state school in Connecticut, with nothing to hang its hat upon.
It isn’t hard to see after nearly 30 years how the tables have turned, even after Calhoun only won 9 games his first season.
Fans must adopt a similar long-term mindset to give Mullin the best chance at success, something he rightfully deserves from Red Storm followers.
This program isn’t dead; if anything it is going down the proper path, going through the growing pains of building. Can St. John’s ever return to college basketball’s peak? As Calhoun would say, its doable.
St. John’s is located in a talent-laden area. New York City offers Mullin a proximate pipeline for great high school talent. He also has to offer recruits an opportunity to play in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. On top of that, Mullin can offer students a chance to play in one of basketball’s most competitive leagues, the historic Big East.
We have gotten a glimpse of the Johnnies selling New York and recruiting locally. Shamorie Ponds hails from the Empire State, and will likely play a huge role in one of the Big East’s best backcourts in the future.
In addition to Ponds, Red Storm coaches have been contenders in the Hamidou Diallo and Rawle Alkins sweepstakes. Both five-star recruits are products of the Big Apple, the most populous metropolitan region on the east coast and as such, an area of immense importance for all elite basketball schools.
The Johnnies have also done a solid job recruiting talented big men, such as Zach Brown. This former Connecticut commit held offers from Kansas, UCLA, Ohio State, among others. He was rated the 36th best player in the 2017 recruiting class, according to ESPN.
Mullin and company also have made their presence felt among the transfer market. Highly regarded prospects Justin Simon and Marvin Clark Jr. committed to continue their college careers in Queens, which is a nice coup for St. John’s.
Chris Mullin will revive basketball at St. John’s. He inherited a tumultuous situation. Fortunately, there are plenty of silver linings as a result of this rebuild. The process is not going to be quick and easy, but those that stick around patiently will enjoy the Red Storm’s success more than anyone.
It is tough to see right now, but with time there is nothing that can not be accomplished under current Red Storm regime.