ST. JOHN’S RED STORM - 2015-16 Blue Ribbon's Preview
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
LOCATION Queens, NY
CONFERENCE Big East
LAST SEASON 21-12
CONFERENCE RECORD 10-8 (5th)
STARTERS RETURNING/LOST 0/5
NICKNAME Red Storm
COLORS Red & White
Madison Square Garden (19,979)/Carnesecca Arena (5,602)
COACH Chris Mullin (St. John’s ’85)
RECORD AT SCHOOL First year
CAREER RECORD First year
Barry Rohrssen (St. Francis [N.Y.] ’83) - Matt Abdelmassih (St. John’s ’07)
WINS (LAST 5 YRS.) 21-13-17-20-21
RPI (LAST 5 YRS.) 28-156-91-82-52
2014-15 FINISH Lost in NIT first round.
Chris Mullin has returned home. Last spring, Mullin, the Naismith Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic gold medalist who spent 16 years in the NBA, took over the head-coaching position at his alma mater, St. John’s.
Mullin, a native New Yorker who led St. John’s to the 1985 NCAA Final Four, left his job as a senior advisor with the Sacramento Kings to succeed former coach Steve Lavin, who couldn’t get the program to anywhere close to the heights it attained when Mullin was a player.
“St. John’s, for me personally, is a premier basketball job,” Mullin said. “It’s one of the premier jobs in basketball. I truly believe that.”
But St. John’s is not the program it was when Mullin, the school’s all-time leading scorer, played there. Despite the Red Storm’s 21-12 record last season, Mullin has returned to a program in disarray.
Gone are four seniors, including three full-time starters. Chris Obekpa (5.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.1 bpg) and Rysheed Jordan (14.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .369 3PT) transferred, taking away the other two starters from Lavin’s nal team at St. John’s. The huge exodus left Mullin with just three returnees who combined to average 4.0 points per game last season.
Mullin admits he’s taken on a major overhaul.
“No doubt,” Mullin said. “But I’m a pretty patient guy. I’m realistic. We’re going to try to work with them and mold them as a group.”
Mullin has been on the NBA level since his senior year at St. John’s. After his playing career ended, he spent 7 years with the Golden State Warriors, including 5 as the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations. He worked as an NBA analyst for ESPN.
Two years ago, he went back into a front office role, as special advisor with the Sacramento Kings.
“My decision to come back, from a basketball standpoint, was easy,” Mullin said. “I’ve never been caught up in NBA versus college. A lot is universal in the industry of basketball. In my mind, you’ve got to be comfortable with the people you’re working with and have the same vision. Having gone to school here and being from here, makes it more comfortable.”
The losses are so great that Mullin isn’t even worrying about replacing D’Angelo Harrison’s 17.5 PPG, Jordan’s scoring and outside shoot, Sir’Dominic Pointer’s rebounding and defense, Obekpa’s 94 blocked shots and Phil Greene’s leadership.
Mullin thinks his NBA background will help him deal with a roster that consists of so many unknowns.
“Not a whole lot,” Mullin said when talking about how much he knows about the players he will be coaching this winter. “Which, coming from the NBA, is kind of status quo. A lot of times you get into camp and then you get on the court and evaluate. I’ve got an idea of how I want to play, but I won’t know technically until I get the guys on the court and evaluate them. Coming from the NBA, though, I feel comfortable with the process. I’ve watched some of them and I’ve watched them on tape. I’ve had instances where I haven’t seen guys on the NBA level and we bring them in.”
Here’s what Mullin will be looking at when he brings in his players for the 2015-16 season: three members of last season’s team. They join a junior college transfer, two graduate transfers and four freshmen, including one from Italy (Federico MUSSINI) and another from Spain (Yankuba Sima). Even in mid-August, there was still the possibility that Mullin could add one or two more players to his roster.
“We’ll have eight or nine new players, so first and foremost, we have to establish a work ethic and a standard of discipline,” Mullin said. “The buzz word today is culture, but culture is just setting standards and then sticking to them.”
Mullin’s not-so-experienced returnees include 6-4 senior guard Felix Balamou, 6-7 junior forward Christian Jones and 6-9 sophomore forward Amar Alibegovic. A native of Rome, Italy, Alibegovic (1.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg) appeared in 24 games as a freshman. He started twice, but averaged just 8.4 minutes. He’s a prototypical stretch four at 6-9 and 230 pounds.
Balamou (1.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg) is a native of Guinea who played at Long Island’s Our Savior New American High School before enrolling at St. John’s. He logged 3 starts last season. Entering his fourth year with the program, Jones (1.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg) averaged just 6.2 minutes last season.
While Balamou, Jones and Alibegovic can help at the big guard and both forward positions, Mullin will have to find himself a point guard. He might have done just that in May when he signed Marcus LoVett, Jr., a 6-0 point guard and four-star prospect. LoVett (20.0 ppg) moved from California to Chicago before his senior year of high school and led Morgan Park to the Class 3A state final four, scoring 45 points on 20-for-27 shooting in a loss in the semifinals. Mullin calls LoVett an instinctive playmaker.
Mullin also will look at 6-1 Federico Mussini as an option at the point. Hailing from Reggio Emilia, Italy, Mussini played for Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia in Italy’s first division and averaged 8.2 points in 10 EuroCup games. In 2014, he played for Italy in the U18 European Championships, averaging 22.6 points and shooting nearly 43% from 3.
Durand Johnson is a 6-6 graduate transfer from Pittsburgh who should help with his versatility; he can play guard or forward. Johnson (8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.4 apg in 2013-14) is eligible immediately, but he hasn’t played basketball for more than 18 months; he was suspended for all of last season for unspecific reasons and missed the final games of the 2013-14 season after tearing his ACL.
Malik Ellison, a 6-6 freshman, could also contribute at more than one position. Ellison (20.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.0 apg) is the son of Pervis Ellison, who coached him at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J.
The frontcourt is where Mullin needs the most help. In addition to Jones and Alibegovic, Mullin brings in 6-8 JUCO forward Darien Williams and Ron Mvouika, a 6-6 small forward from Missouri State.
Darien Williams (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg) last played for Iowa Western Community College in 2013-14. He spent last year at City College of San Francisco, but didn’t play while recovering from shoulder surgery. He arrives with 3 years of eligibility remaining.
Like Williams, Mvouika is also coming off a lost year; he suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2014-15 campaign. Mvouika (6.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg in 2013-14) averaged 19.3 points as a sophomore at Sheridan College in Wyoming.
Yankuba Sima, a 6-11 freshman from Spain, is the only true center on the roster. Sima played at the Canarias Basketball Academy before coming to the United States. The long, athletic shot blocker stood out at the 2014 European Championships, where he averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds for Spain’s U18 national team.
There is one other center on the St. John’s roster but he has to sit out the season. Tariq Owens, a 6-10, 210-pound sophomore, transferred to St. John’s from Tennessee, where he appeared in 28 games, averaging 7.6 minutes.
St. John’s is in the running for most inexperienced team in the country. The Red Storm lost 96% of its scoring, 92% of its rebounding and 98% of its assists from last season.
The 3 eligible transfers that Mullin has recruited — Darien Williams, Durand Johnson and Ron Mvouika — played in a total of 2 games last season. The fourth, Owens, can’t play until next season.
Mullin shrugs off the doom-and-gloom forecast for the Red Storm this season.
“If I was to listen to preseason analysis, I never would’ve played basketball to begin with,” Mullin said. “I was told I couldn’t play.”
OK, we don’t know who saw Mullin’s sweet jump shot and ever thought he couldn’t play, but it’s worth noting that a guy whose game didn’t include athleticism eventually had his jersey retired by both St. John’s and the Golden State Warriors. So, Mullin is the rare Hall of Famer who can claim the underdog story as his own.
And he intends on bringing back St. John’s basketball to its past greatness the same way he spurred himself to greatness as a player.
“I’m a goal-setter guy,’’ Mullin said. “I get up in the morning, thank God and then have a good day. It’s all about the daily plan. Any successful coach, GM or player has a routine daily plan and they stick to it.
I’ve won and lost at every level. To me, you’re going to win and you’re going to lose, but the ones that work at it are going to win more. If we work on day one, then on day two, we’ll be better.’’