Courtside: Mullin Returns Home

Brandon Mauk, Digital Sports Manager

Thirty years later, it’s all come full circle for Chris Mullin. The legend has returned to where his historic life in basketball began.

Before he was a five-time NBA All-Star, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” and a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, he was the heart and soul of St. John’s. In his four-year career as a Johnny, he was a three-time Big East Player of the Year, a Wooden Award winner, and led St. John’s to a Big East championship and a Final Four appearance.

After all the things he’s taken on and succeeded at, he’s ready to take on another challenge: head coach. Mullin has returned to St. John’s to become the program’s 20th head coach, despite having no experience in the endeavor.

“It kind of fits the script, because I never thought I would have been able to do a lot of the things I had been able to do. When opportunity presents itself, and you take it on, who knows what can happen?”

Mullin took over for Steve Lavin in March, and from day one has been focused on his goal to rebuild this program. He wants to do for St. John’s basketball what coach Lou Carnesecca did for him, to restore the school’s winning tradition.

Within all the nostalgia stirred up by his return to his alma mater, Mullin doesn’t want to talk about the past. He’s living in the now, and he’s focused on making St. John’s great again. This first year is stage one of Mullin’s plan.

“That’s in the past. I really don’t live in the past. To me this is a really exciting opportunity, not only for me but for my players. It’s a blessing to be 52 and take on a new venture, something I’ve never done before,” Mullin said.

What made St. John’s great was coach Lou Carnesecca’s ability to recruit the New York kids. Many New York City high school ballers like Mullin took the opportunity to stay home and play for St. John’s and on the big stage at Madison Square Garden. That hasn’t been the case in the new century. Many kids from New York have left the city for private high schools in New Jersey and big dog colleges outside the metropolitan area.

Mullin also put together a talented coaching staff behind him, and it goes into his long-term plan to recruit everywhere in the New York area.

First, Mullin brought in Iowa State assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who was a team manager when he attended St. John’s. Next, he brought in life-long friend Barry Rohrssen. “Slice,”as he is called, was John Calipari’s right-hand man last year as he was responsible for last year’s historic recruiting class at Kentucky. Mullin has looked to them with his vision.

“Chris is very astute when it comes to basketball. He’s got a great basketball mind,” Rohrssen said. “It’s like with all the great chess players, how they think one or two steps ahead, every play.”

When Mullin took over for Steve Lavin, he had a huge hill to climb right away. The team ended up returning just three lettermen from this past season, so he spent the summer rebuilding the roster for this season. The team brought in four transfer students and recruited six freshmen. They spent the whole summer together with Mullin and are buying into his agenda.

“Honestly, I do think he has a great plan. Seeing the things that we do in practice, and the things that we work on, as a team we already see results and see us getting better. A lot better from when we started. Our team has grown a lot from then to now. I’m really excited to see what happens going forward,” sophomore Tariq Owens, who transferred from Tennessee and is one of the few players on the team with collegiate experience.

Because of the need to completely overhaul the roster, this team is a work in a progress. They are not yet focused on success in the short-term, their current goal is skill development, chemistry and building the culture in the program.

“We’re laying down the foundation of how we’re going to work, how we’re going to play unselfishly,” Mullin said. “You look at the long-term vision, it’s always important to have, but you always have to get back to what are you going to do now to make that happen? You can’t just go for it out there without taking the proper steps.”

The youth and inexperience factor was a crucial in the Big East Coaches Poll as St. John’s was picked to finish last in the conference. But Mullin isn’t worried about the results for this season, because it’s all about the end result.

“I do think there will be the time where expectations should be risen. But this year, we’re going to focus on doing the best we can training unselfishly, and we’ll live with the results,” Mullin said.