Courtside: Mullin reels in star-studded staff

Troy Mauriello, Assistant Sports Editor

When Chris Mullin was announced as the 20th men’s basketball coach in St. John’s history on April 1, he, like many others, was aware of the mass roster exodus that was to occur upon his arrival.

At that time, three of the Red Storm’s top four leading scorers—D`Angelo Harrison, Sir`Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV—would all be graduating alongside veteran ball handler Jamal Branch.

To make matters worse, both of the Johnnies’ top-returning players, Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan, would also leave the program later in the summer. This left Mullin with a measly 5.6 percent of the scoring from last year’s tournament team returning for his first season back in Queens.

But, what has transpired since then has truly been a miraculous recruiting effort. Throughout the summer Mullin and his handpicked staff were able to lure in an unorthodox mix of transfers, three and four star recruits, graduate students and junior college players with the promise of a new opportunity at St. John’s.

Before all of this even began, Mullin had to achieve quite the different type of recruiting feat all on his own, convincing an old friend, a former teammate, and a St. John’s alumni to come to Queens and undertake this massive effort with him.

The first of those coaching additions came almost simultaneously with Mullin’s hire. Just one day after the St. John’s legend agreed to return home on March 30, he landed one of his fellow alumni to come and join him.

That man is Matt Abdelmassih, a Brooklyn-native just like Mullin who is already one of the nation’s top recruiters at just 30 years old. A 2007 graduate of St. John’s, Abdelmassih returns to Queens after spending time in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves and most recently at Iowa State.

It was with the Cyclones that Abdelmassih became a household name around college basketball for his recruiting prowess. As an assistant coach at Iowa State he helped lead the Cyclones to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and two straight Big 12 Tournament titles.

“It’s crazy to be in the position I’m in,” Abdelmassih told Newsday in April. “But you know it’s taken a lot of hard work…. I’m going to put myself in a position where I’m going to make Chris proud that he did hire me.”

So far in his six-plus months on the job Abdelmassih has done just that. The assistant coach has been instrumental in luring nearly every current player on the Red Storm roster, along with landing four-star guard Shamorie Ponds of Brooklyn for the 2016 class, possibly ushering in a new era of recruiting for the program.

“(Ponds is) a four-star kid they kept home,” a local Division I coach told the New York Post in September. “St. John’s hasn’t been able to keep two-star kids home recently.”

Mullin and Abdelmassih have not been alone in their recruiting efforts in the past few months. Just two weeks after Abdelmassih returned to the five boroughs, as did another Brooklyn-native and longtime friend of Mullin in Barry “Slice” Rohrssen.

With over 20 years of basketball coaching under his belt, Rohrssen, 55, brings the experience needed for a head coach in Mullin that will be in his very first year on the sidelines in 2015-16.

Rohrssen’s only head coaching experience came from 2006-2010 with the Manhattan Jaspers, however he’s worked at a plethora of Division I programs throughout his career.

His most recent stop was as an assistant coach under John Calipari at Kentucky, where the Wildcats enjoyed an undefeated regular season and a Final Four appearance in 2014-15.

But decades’ worth of NCAA coaching experience is not the only thing that “Slice” brings to this new-look St. John’s staff. Rohrssen is also known as one of the best recruiters in college basketball, with exceptional ties to the New York City area.

With the Pittsburgh staff in the early 2000’s he helped lead the Panthers into Big East relevance with the signing of multiple New York City recruits. And as most disgruntled Red Storm fans will remember, he was heavily involved in the recruitment of Isaiah Briscoe, who spurned St. John’s for Kentucky last November.

“This is special for me because this is home,” Rohrssen told the New York Daily News in April. “My relationship with Chris goes back to when we were kids. Now we’re going to be talking to players about St. John’s basketball and New York, two things we believe in.”

With much of his staff already signed on after only a few weeks on the job, there was much speculation throughout the summer as to who Mullin would bring on to fill things out. By early October those speculations were finally confirmed.

On October 6 the school announced that Basketball Hall of Famer and Mullin’s former teammate Mitch Richmond would be joining the staff as well in a Special Assistant position.

Richmond, who was a member of the legendary “Run TMC” trio with the Golden State Warriors alongside Mullin and Tim Hardaway, brings a ton of NBA front office experience to the table.

Richmond has spent the better part of the last two decades working in NBA front offices, first at Golden State and most recently with the Sacramento Kings. St. John’s will be his first college coaching position.

“Obviously, his experience in different roles throughout his career as a player, scout and mentor will have an impact on many areas,” Mullin said regarding Richmond.

Mullin also rounded out his staff with the announcement on October 6 that Greg St. Jean would join as an assistant coach. The young St. Jean already has NBA coaching experience with the Kings and Brooklyn Nets.

Whether or not this makeshift Red Storm roster will compete this season remains to be seen. But with one of the better coaching staffs in the nation at the helm, St. John’s fans should feel confident about this team’s bright future.