Busting Brackets

St. John’s Red Storm: Chris Mullin Eyes Impact Class in 2016


It’s been just over four months since the St. John’s Red Storm brought back Chris Mullin, the school’s most accomplished basketball alum, to serve as head coach. His goal will be to reinvigorate the formerly elite basketball program that he once starred for. In the eighties, Mullin teamed with Walter Berry to lead the Johnnies to the Final Four. The program hasn’t been back since, and they haven’t really been close.

Sold out crowds cheering high-level local talent at Madison Square Garden, this is the type of success that fans and administrators alike are expecting from their favorite son. Occasional NCAA Tournament appearances, two in five seasons under previous head coach Steve Lavin, weren’t enough to meet the New York City standard for basketball excellence that the program will constantly bear. This is regardless of the fact that those two appearances were two more than what Lavin’s predecessor  managed during his six seasons (Lavin was preceded by current Kansas assistant Norm Roberts).

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The truth is that Mullin was brought on to turn St. John’s into a perennial contender, and the Brooklyn native believes he can achieve that goal the same way his coach, the legendary Lou Carnesecca, did it back in the day — keep New York City’s finest at home, and let the rest fall in place as it may.

Upon receiving the job, Mullin said and did all the right things. On his first day as coach, he offered a scholarship to seemingly every New York City teen who has ever touched a basketball (only a slight exaggeration), emphasizing his commitment to mining local resources for talent. He also quickly hired away two of the game’s most respected recruiting aces, Iowa State’s Matt Abdelmassih and Kentucky’s Barry “Slice” Rohrssen.

Side Note: Isn’t “Slice” the greatest nickname for a shady ace recruiter-type assistant coach? If I ever become a college basketball coach, my top recruiter will always be known as “Slice” followed by their last name. The “Slice” moniker is also in the running to be my first child’s nickname. Never trust a dude named Slice. Make sure he’s your friend…but keep an eye on him. Anyways, let’s get back to Mullin.

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Hiring assistant’s with such strong recruiting ties was a lauded decision, especially since the previous two head coaches were known for having notoriously bad relationships with local AAU and high school coaches.

Unfortunately, the chances of Mullin making an instant impact in Queens have become quite dim in the past four months.

First, Mullin failed to retain the top commitment from the previous regime’s recruiting haul. Four-star prospect Brandon Sampson decommitted from St. John’s about five minutes after Steve Lavin left the program. After meeting with Mullin, Sampson decided to flip his pledge and join LSU. Granted, the loss of Sampson was more circumstantial than anything else. Sampson always preferred LSU over the Johnnies, but the Tigers didn’t have the room to pursue Sampson until they unexpectedly lost two players to early entry into the NBA Draft.

He also lost out to Kansas in the sweepstakes for McDonald’s All-American Cheick Diallo. However, the late swoop to put St. John’s in the conversation for the big man’s signature was an overall plus. It was an great example of the new staff’s recruiting chops being put in action. Siccing “Matty A” and “Slice” on a recruit is clearly one heck of a shakedown. It will be interesting to see how they will fair with these types of prospects when given a more formidable amount of time to woo a recruit.

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There was also a long flirtation with Greek seven-footer Georgios Papagiannis, a prospect who was considered a potential “one-and-done” player if he made the decision to play college ball. Ultimately, the big man decided to stay in Greece to play professionally.

Just yesterday, the Johnnies were dealt another crushing blow. Maverick Rowan, the son of Mullin’s former St. John’s teammate Ron Rowan, committed to North Carolina State over the Johnnies. Just a few weeks ago, a source close to the program told me that he was almost certain that Rowan would be coming to Queens. It was said that the former top 30 Class 0f 2016 prospect was reclassifying with the intent of stepping right into the Red Storm lineup. Instead, he’ll join the Wolfpack and look to do the same.

In addition to the recruiting losses, Mullin also lost his two best returning players. Chris Obekpa, one of the nation’s best shot-blockers, decided to transfer from the program after over a year of flip-flopping on his commitment to the program. Rysheed Jordan, who would have been a candidate to be next year’s Big East Player of the Year, also left Mullin hanging. After learning that he wouldn’t be eligible to play during the fall semester, Jordan decided to “go pro” as in going directly overseas without collecting $200. The departures are hard to hang on Mullin. Obekpa has been always enigmatic and Jordan never seemed in love with the idea of going to class (to put it very kindly).

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  • Judging on the harshest scale, Mullin has struck out on the Class of 2015. He has added an array of prospects, but has missed out on the names that would have made the program relevant immediately. It’s acceptable to lose some battles on the recruiting front when your this obscenely late to the party, but the future will probably be defined by the class of talent that Mullin attracts in 2016. This is a known fact within the program, and that’s why no stones are being left unturned and no gym is being left un…visited. The future of the St. John’s Red Storm is completely reliant on their next class.

    Fortunately, Coach Mullin has his program in position to reel in a legit top ten class filled with the type of recruits that can help build a championship program. If Mullin lands these prospects, he’ll have the Red Storm back in the Big East title conversation during his second season on the job.

    Rawle Alkins is the key to the class, and the Red Storm have made it clear that they’ll do almost anything to land the physical two-guard who has drawn on-court comparisons to Lance Stephenson and Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead (another New York City product). Mullin’s staff has essentially stalked Alkins throughout the summer, with at least one member of the staff present whenever he hits the floor. Landing Alkins would likely mean welcoming a McDonald’s All-American to campus for the first time since Omar Cook, another Christ the King (Queens, NY) product, picked the Red Storm in 2000. The bad news here is that Alkins is said to be a top target for John Calipari’s 2016 class, and Coach Cal has a tendency to get what and who he wants.

    Mustapha Heron has also spent plenty of time playing in front of St. John’s coaches, partially because he shares a backcourt with Rawle Alkins during the summer while playing for the New York Rens AAU outfit. Like Alkins, Heron has been climbing up the rankings and is considered a strong four-star point guard prospect. His affiliation with St. John’s is very strong. Slice Rohrssen is a close friend of the Heron Family (Rohrssen played ball overseas with Mustapha’s father), and that influence led Mustapha to initially pledge to Pitt while Rohrssen was coaching there. When Slice left, Heron lifted his commitment, leading many to believe that he will eventually follow Slice to St. John’s. If he does, his first order of business will be to convince Alkins that a reprisal of their AAU backcourt would be the best move for his college career.

    Shamorie Ponds is, in many ways, the x-factor of this class. While he won’t offer the same cache as the aforementioned five-star prospects, he will offer the Johnnies something that they haven’t had in decades — depth. Ponds is a solid scorer that can play both guard positions despite only standing six-feet tall, which makes him a versatile option for the Johnnies backcourt. Most importantly, Ponds could be the first domino to fall in this class. He has already named his top four schools, with St. John’s considered to be a leader ahead of Big East rivals Creighton and Providence, as well as Minnesota from the Big Ten. Landing Ponds sends a message to elite talents that Mullin will be able to surround them with the type of players they will need to play with in order to succeed. While it’s important to attract the big names, many games are won based on a staff’s ability to bring in high quality glue guys.

    Kassoum Yakwe could be a key member of the Class of 2016, but he would be an even bigger coup if the Red Storm are able to convince him to reclassify into the Class of 2015. This year’s roster is thin in the frontcourt. With former Tennessee center Tariq Owens sitting out his transfer year, Mullin is desperate for the type of long and athletic size that he apparently covets for his bigs. Yakwe only stands 6’7, but has developed a reputation as a prodigious shot-blocker. A reclassification greatly increases the Johnnies’ chances of landing Yakwe, as it would eliminate a good deal of the competition they will face for his signature. If he were to stay in the Class of 2016, Yakwe may be the toughest get out of all of Mullin’s high ranking targets.

    Bashir Ahmed is a shining example of the new culture that Chris Mullin is creating in New York City. Ahmed, a Bronx native who is currently playing JUCO ball in Kansas, was a target under the Lavin regime. However, he has seen a stark rise in interest since Mullin took over as head coach. There’s plenty to be interested in, too. Ahmed is a 6’6 inside-outside scoring threat who garnered JUCO All-American honors during his first year at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He could be an immediate answer at small forward or another dangerous scorer off the bench depending on how other scenarios play out.

    In a perfect world, the Red Storm would land all five of these recruits, and would go into the 2016-2017 season ready to challenge Villanova for the league title. Realistically speaking, I’d say that the Johnnies land three of the five (missing out on Alkins and Yakwe), which still serves as a solid foundation for future successes. However, a number less than three from this list would be enough to justify light criticism.

    Chris Mullin believes he can win on the backs of New York City talent, and he can…but only if he gets the right guys.

    Next: Brodricks Jones Commits to UTEP

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