So the time has finally come!
All the hype leading up to this men’s basketball season for the St. John’s University, Jamaica, Red Storm has been well documented.
And it’s all because new head coach Chris Mullin is eager to lead the team from the Johnnies’ bench.
Mullin returns to his alma mater, where he played from 1981 to 1985 and remains the school’s all-time leading scorer. Of course the ties to St. John’s are present, but for the five-time NBA All-Star and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, the ties to the entire Diocese of Brooklyn make this coaching homecoming that much more special.
From his early days playing Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, to the time he spent at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is in Mullin’s blood.
Playing at St. John’s was an easy choice for Mullin, since he was able to learn from the tutelage of legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca. Though he’s never actually been a head coach at any level, Mullin’s time spent with Carnesecca undoubtedly will have a strong impact on his coaching philosophy.
“I’ve played a lot of different roles, not as a head coach, but I’ve been exposed to coaching staffs,” Mullin said Oct. 21 at St. John’s annual basketball media day. “Nothing yet (has come as a surprise), but when it does I’ll deal with it.”
The initial hiring had to seem surreal for Mullin at first. How many players are lucky enough to someday wind up coaching at their alma mater? The answer is not very many at all, but of the few, Mullin can now be added to the list.
“Once the whole roster came together and we ran the floor in practice things started to feel normal to me,” he said. “When I first arrived in the summer we only had a couple of guys, so it’s much nicer when you have the entire group together every day and really see the progress happening. The team is what makes us function.”
Right away, Mullin’s coaching skills will be put to the test. The Johnnies lost four starting players from last year due to graduation – D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch – and two other key contributors – Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa. In total, only three players will be returning from last year’s squad.
One of those returners is sophomore forward Amar Alibegovic, who averaged 1.5 pts. and 1.5 rebounds in 24 games during his freshman campaign. Through all the preseason activities, he’s well aware of the excitement surrounding his new coach.
“When Coach Mullin came I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, a Dream Team member and it doesn’t get better than that. As soon as I got to meet him I found that he was a great guy and I can relate to him, so that has motivated me even more to just work hard every day.”
Though he hasn’t ever served in a coaching role, Mullin’s basketball pedigree is endless. He most recently worked as a special advisor to the Sacramento Kings following a stint as general manager of the Golden State Warriors.
“Coming from the NBA, we usually practice four days before we start playing,” he said. “I love practice and I think we need it since we have several new players, but I wouldn’t say we’re anxious or impatient (to start playing games). When games come, they come.”
The season begins Nov. 4 with an exhibition game against St. Thomas Aquinas, Sparkill, N.Y.
Is there any coincidence that he will coach his first game against an institution that shares a name with his childhood parish and the place where his lifelong basketball journey began?
The basketball gods would certainly think not.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.