Some programs are sitting down to watch the NCAA Tournament finals, thinking about how they can sharpen their attack and get to the promised land. St. John’s, however, seems stuck in uncertainty for next season.
There has been some feverish excitement about the idea that head coach Chris Mullin may step down or be fired. The relationship between AD Mike Cragg and Mullin is characterized as still a stand-off, despite a statement earlier this weekend about the school not looking for another coach.
Mullin would be owed $4 million over two years for the rest of his contract if let go.
The Red Storm went 21-13, and received a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Some of the performances late in the season were poor, and on the whole, the Johnnies struggled badly in the last month of the season.
Those numbers will look solid on paper in the fall from the outside. Mullin may have brought some level of stability to the program; after all, after the last two NCAA Tournament berths, St. John’s needed a brand new roster.
While the current roster needs better work inside, this is a team that has defeated the top team in the Big East two years in a row, has knocked off Duke, and continues to highlight players who have struggled in other locales.
But the overall performance has not warranted an extension for Mullin, leaving both school and coach in a strange place.
A player signing on to play for Mullin in 2020-2021 has no assurance that his coach will be on the sidelines in the following year, making recruiting a little dicey (and giving rivals fodder when communicating with recruits).
On the other hand, despite what some may think, the optics of firing the school’s greatest player after he finally breaks through to the NCAA Tournament will be a head-scratcher. The monetary outlay for new coaches is significant.
Meanwhile, as followers of this site and St. John’s basketball know, incoming point guard Cameron Mack has decommitted in the wake of the departure of recruiting assistant Matt Abdelmassih, the man who successfully recruited this roster.
Some will say “why should one assistant leaving change the relationship?”
Others will say Mack showed signs of being mercurial (three colleges to play one year of JUCO, talking about going straight to the NBA before setting foot on campus), while others will say FIRE MULLENS RAARRGH EVRYTHING’S TURRIBLE! GET THE TREBUCHET!
Now, players are often attached to one assistant, that’s not uncommon.
But improved communication between the head coach and recruits and their families is clearly needed. Communication between the head coach and the media, whether through quiet channels or statements, is also needed.
A few words from Mullin to a favorite writer could spin the story one way.
Finding a resolution at the Final Four could have helped. Or even showing up to chat up some national writers, could have gone a long way.
This is the politicking side of being a college basketball head coach.
It’s not “let the results speak for themselves”, it’s not the old school “this is my program and everyone else can go to hell.” But it keeps the funders and fans sated, quiet, and not trying to get Mike Francesca (or someone more keyed in to the program) to talk about St. John’s.
So, we wait, for fireworks or nothingness. For an assistant coach, maybe two. For speculation in spurts of calls for Rick Pitino and Tim Cluess and Bobby Hurley and other heroes who will, like Mullin, become faded a year after they roam the sidelines in Queens and on 33rd Street.
Meanwhile, the upshot of Mack’s departure is the “what’s next” question.
The Red Storm painted themselves in a corner by bringing in Mack. Yes, he has talent. But some combination of the incoming guard plus the players already here sent Mikey Dixon off to Phoenix to get minutes with Grand Canyon.
And as such, there is no shifty ball-handling creative guard on the roster. Justin Simon could fir the bill, but he has done excellent work off the ball on defense, and has some turnover tendencies.
More likely, Greg Williams Jr. will get some chances to shine. The team gave him limited minutes at point guard this season. In Mike Dixon’s last game, Williams had the ball in the waning garbage time minutes, running the play.
Given his athleticism and ability to attack a straight line lane, maybe he could be the guy.
Or maybe it will be someone else.
Maybe St. John’s will slow the pace; maybe all the guards will be involved in bringing the ball up and breaking down defenses. Maybe, out of necessity, St. John’s will run more complex offensive sets and spread the offensive creativity around.
Whatever happens, this offseason is bound to have some drama.