A Disappointing Season, But Don’t Write Mullin Off Yet

Time has proven to be key in the third-year head coach’s tenure in Queens.

Brendan Myers, Assistant Sports Editor

Rewind to October.

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright went on CBS College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein’s podcast and said “I think the Johnnies have a chance to be really good.”

Wright found himself on a long list of people who were optimistic of what was brewing in Queens for the 2017-18 season. Year three of the Mullin experiment was supposed to be when the team made the jump to the upper echelon of the Big East, and possibly even further.

The preseason hype looked to be real heading into conference play. The team was 10-2, and the only losses were to Missouri (in a game when the Tigers shot over 51% from behind the arc), and nationally ranked Arizona St. on the west coast—and the team had played well without star point guard Marcus LoVett.

ESPN’s NCAA analyst Joe Lunardi had the Red Storm sneaking into the NCAA Tournament.

Coming back from Christmas break into conference play, it’s been a completely different story. The team sits at 0-5 in Big East play, including a home loss to DePaul and one to Georgetown in Patrick Ewing’s return the Garden on Tuesday night.

If you look up “Chris Mullin” on Twitter, there’s a good chance you’ll find sentiments that he should be fired, or he isn’t doing a good enough coaching job. It’s safe to say that there were a lot of St. John’s fans that questioned the way Steve Lavin and the school parted ways following four postseason appearances in five seasons, so people might be quickly turning on Mullin when patience is key.

As weird as it may seem, it’s still too early to criticize Mullin, or to call for him to be fired. In each of his first three seasons, he’s had key players sitting out. In year one, it was LoVett and Tariq Owens. In year two, it was Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II. In year three, he has Mikey Dixon, Sedee Keita, and Boubacar Diakite all sitting on the bench as redshirts.

It’s been clear that Mullin and his staff wanted to go through this rebuild with a heavy focus on transfers. A risk you take with that is that one injury (i.e. LoVett) can really throw things off because the team is already short-handed.

In addition to the redshirts, Mullin has three major recruits coming in next season. Three-star shooting guard Greg Williams, and two four-star big guys in Josh Roberts (6’9”) and J’Raan Brooks (6’8”). Those two will mix with Sedee Keita (6’9”) to give the Johnnies a front court that Mullin hasn’t had in his first three seasons as coach.

Forget the results of the games, it’s also clear to see Mullin hasn’t lost control of the locker room. Say what you want about the LoVett injury situation, but his profile picture on Twitter is him hugging Mullin.

Watching St. John’s play, they fight. They took nationally-ranked Seton Hall down to the wire on the road without LoVett or Shamorie Ponds. The game Tuesday night against Georgetown was an old-fashioned dogfight. The team didn’t play well, but they didn’t back down and hustled all over the court.

They fight and have shown the quintessential “New York grit” that can capture the city the same way it did when Mullin and co. dominated in the 1980s.

Mullin’s fourth year will be the first accurate assessment of the direction the program is heading. He’ll finally have a full roster of guys that he and his staff recruited and think will fit well into Mullin’s pro-style system. With each game, he gets more and more comfortable as a coach. You can see him on the sidelines being more active, and being able to communicate better with the players.

There were always going to be growing pains, the aforementioned method of building through transfers and Mullin as a first time head coach at the forefront. However, Mullin surrounded himself with a staff that includes talented basketball minds like Greg St. Jean, and recruiting expert Matt Abdelmassih to help with his lack of experience.

This is a fan base starving to recapture the glory of past St. John’s teams. Has this season been beyond frustrating? Absolutely. Was the Marcus LoVett situation handled in a perfect manner? Probably not. But don’t give up on Mullin and the staff yet.