Chris Mullin

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Keidel: Chris Mullin Has Returned St. John's To Relevance

Jason Keidel
January 23, 2019 - 12:51 pm
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The problem with social media in general and Twitter, in particular, is the built-in anonymity. Folks can drop the most vulgar bombs and then hide behind the egg or whatever pseudonym they stirred up that day, pinch the laptop closed, and watch TV in grandma's basement. You can say the most hideous things without fear of filters or reprisals. Most of all, you never hear an apology. 

So let's flip this online orthodoxy on its head. I'm here to apologize to a man in Queens, and his wife. 

Chris Mullin, head coach of the St John's Men's Basketball team, had just lost to Incarnate Word by 22 points, making the Red Storm 7-5. That loss sparked a 16-game losing streak and 23 losses in their 26 games. At the end of the season, St. John's would have just eight wins in total. 

After that loss, I said Mullin was not cut out for the gig. He was just another jaded jock swelling with nostalgia, who had never coached a college or NBA team yet thought he could turn his alma mater into its former eminence. Much like the teams Mullin played for under Lou Carnesecca, when trips deep into March were expected, not exceptions. If seasoned coaches like Steve Lavin, Mike Jarvis, or Fran Fraschilla couldn't rebuild the school into a powerhouse, then what possibly could a neophyte like Mullin do differently? 

After I wrote that column I got some epic blowback from St. John's fans, alumni, and even Liz Mullin, wife of Chris, who took some exception to my column. She had every right to protect her husband. So it's only fair that I apologize to both Chris and Liz. Maybe the progress has been a bit more plodding than some fans would like, but it was wrong to assert he couldn't do the job on such a small sample size.  

Now, the Red Storm are 15-4, and relevant again. You can argue they started 12-0 on the backs of stiffs, and are now losing to big boys like Butler and Villanova and DePaul. But they have 12 games left with a real shot at winning 20 and sneaking into March Madness. Out of the dozen remaining contests, they hit the meat of conference play and still get a crack at Duke, Villanova, Marquette and Xavier.  

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Mullin has turned this tanker around by sticking to the formula founded by the top programs in the country - hitch your college wagon to a surefire star and future NBA player, even if only for one year. Mullin has his man in Shamorie Ponds, who, like Mullin, was born in Brooklyn and then took his hardwood talents to Queens. Unlike most stars who use college as a 12-month, chalkboard funnel to the NBA, Ponds is now in his junior year at St John's, giving Mullin a three-year window to grow the program back to respectability. 

No, he's in no danger of replacing Adolph Rupp, Bobby Knight, or Dean Smith in the archives. But there has been steady, tangible improvement since he took over four years ago. His awful maiden season - the one in which I called for his vocational head - ended with an 8-24 record and losses to Incarnate Word and NJIT. Since then, Mullin's Red Storm have gone 14-19, 16-17, and now have 15 wins before February.

No one knows if Chris Mullin has the chops to return St. John's to its halcyon days of the 1980s when there seemed to be an All-American at every spot. Starting with Mullin, we recall Willie Glass, Shelton Jones, Mark Jackson, Bill Wennington and the great Walter Berry. Chris Mullin was clearly a Hall of Fame basketball player. He deserves a few more years to determine if he belongs in the aristocracy as a head coach. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @JasonKeidel