Late last week, St. John’s University parted ways with head coach Steve Lavin. Lavin led the Johnnies to two NCAA Tournament bids in his five years as head coach. He had a fine stay in Queens, but to some fans and to some in the administration it’s hard not to think that he underachieved in his tenure. To replace Lavin the school has hired legendary Johnnie Chris Mullin. Mullin the hero of the last great St. John’s teams of the 1980s, will be expected to lead a new renaissance in Jamaica Heights.
Mullin, who left St. John’s to have a great NBA career, comes back to Utopia Parkway after a stint in the front office of the Sacramento Kings. Mullin has no head coaching experience but was thought highly enough by Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, that the Kings offered Mullin the head coaching position after Michael Malone was fired early this season. Mullin turned it down because he didn’t want to take a head coaching position without the benefit of an offseason, and the Kings eventually turned to George Karl to right their ship. I’m sure Mullin learned a lot in the front office, but he better be prepared to hit the ground running as the new head coach of St. John’s.
Why? The St. John’s team that made it to this year’s NCAA Tournament will not be the same team he’s going to coach in the 2015-2016 season. St. John’s will graduate 4 key contributors this offseason (they’ll lose 7 seniors overall), and their remaining top two players Chris Obekpa, and Rysheed Jordan, are widely expected to leave for the NBA Draft. Personally, I expect Obekpa to leave due to his advanced age but Jordan going pro would be a mistake. I don’t really see Obekpa or Jordan as NBA players but Jordan is only a sophomore. Staying an additional year or two on campus would only benefit the point guard from Philadelphia. Being the unquestionable best player on the roster under a new head coach would be a boon for him.
However, if Jordan and Obekpa leaves, St. John’s would be without their key 6 players from this past season on a team that wasn’t too deep to begin with. Mullin is going to have to hire a top notch staff and recruit in a hurry. Even if he is able to fill all the holes on the roster, it’s still going to be a tough first season for him, and it might take up to three seasons to really replace all the talent that will leave after this season.
The Big East is a tough conference. It might not be the conference it once was, but Villanova should still be strong, and there are some interesting teams coming up on the horizon. A team like Seton Hall for example. Seton Hall has exactly what St. Johns should want under Mullin: top talent from New York City.
In hiring a Brooklyn native, and a St. John’s legend, this program should finally get back to what I have been begging them to do for years now: go after the best players in New York City. Mullin and his staff have to identify players in the City, and then spread out to the talent rich Northern New Jersey and upstate New York. To begin the renaissance it’s going to have to be sparked by locals who want to see their hometown school back on top.
Those of us who have stuck with St. John’s through thick and thin will really need to have patience. A first time head coach with an inexperienced roster is a recipe for trouble. I’m a pessimist by nature, but even an optimist will have a hard time looking at the players that will return for Mullin’s first season in charge and have hope that this team will get back to the NCAA’s. I really think Mullin is going to take his lumps early but if he hires an experienced staff he’ll be able to sell a bright future. It’s his and the program’s only hope.
No matter what, the fan base will still be there. Alumni Hall will still be packed. The Garden will still be packed. While I might have targeted one of the Hurley brothers, Bobby or Danny, or made a run at another St. John’s great that actually has head coaching experience in Mark Jackson, I still think the school made a great hire in Mullin. It will take time, and it may get ugly at times, but I think the future is still bright at the corner of Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway.
We Are St. John’s.
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