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St. John’s loses assistant Matt Abdelmassih to Nebraska

The assistant, who led the Johnnies’ recruiting efforts, rejoins the head coach who gave him his college start

Sedee Keita works with Abdelmassih
Sedee Keita works with assistant Matt Abdelmassih
Wendell Cruz

Early reports say that, as expected, St. John’s assistant Matt Abdelmassih will leave St. john’s to take an assistant job with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Nebraska officially hired Fred Hoiberg, the former Iowa State and Chicago Bulls coach. While in the NBA as a general manager, Hoiberg had hired Abdelmassih wih the Timberwolves, and tagged him as an assistant when Hoiberg took the head coaching job at Iowa State, his alma mater.

Now, back in the city Hoiberg grew up in (and where his grandfather coached the basketball team), Hoiberg will look to Abdelmassih’s strong contacts and ability to quickly work the college basketball transfer market to up the talent level for the Cornhuskers.

Abdelmassih’s skill in bringing in highly-regarded transfers elevated Iowa State to a perennial NCAA Tournament team after four lackluster years under Greg McDermott (who landed safely at Creighton).

While some national pundits and fans prefer the idea of high school players who come directly to a school, locating hungry players looking for a chance to shine at a higher level, or after being recruited over.

That recruiting has, despite a lot of player movement, given St. John’s the talent to compete in the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament, without the long, slow rebuild of a program like DePaul.

So for St. John’s, this comes as an expected blow, but a blow nonetheless. Much of current talent has been recruited by Abdelmassih.

St. John’s will need to locate an assistant coach who fits and can handle the job of reaching out often and convincingly to players and their contacts, while knowing what the head coach can work with. The coach will need to identify talent that can grow under Chris Mullin’s tutelage, and do it quickly — the spring AAU season starts soon.

St. John’s currently has two players who are committed for next year from junior colleges — Cameron Mack, who has signed a National Letter of Intent, and Valdir Manuel, who committed after the NLI period, so has not signed a National Letter of Intent. The Johnnies have one player committed for 2020 in Nate Tabor from Queens, now playing in Waterbury, CT.

There is always the question about whether players will follow a recruiting assistant, of course. (Though there are three players who have already sat out this year, plus another player in Sedee Keita who is old for his year and would need to sit out again. That seems unlikely.) And if any players leave, the Red Storm will need to reach out to players transferring from other programs and to high school players who have been overlooked to find some talent.

And once the dust settles, the entire staff will need to figure out how to get the St. John’s into the winning column against what could be a much tougher schedule next season.