Mullin: Trying to turn around St John’s an ‘obligation’
NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Mullin’s old coach reached way back into history to describe the buzz from St. John’s hiring its all-time leading scorer.
“I’m not going to say that Mull got a lot of ink,” Lou Carnesecca crowed from the podium in the arena bearing his name, “but President Eisenhower after winning World War II didn’t get that much space in the paper.”
Mullin and his new bosses couldn’t help but keep bringing up the past Wednesday as the Red Storm’s new coach was introduced to several hundred adoring fans. The 51-year-old Mullin has never coached before, but he and St. John’s are banking on the lessons he learned from Carnesecca and the many other basketball greats he played for and with during a Hall of Fame career.
“It is strange to hear ‘Coach Mullin.’ Someone might say I probably wouldn’t turn around right away,” he acknowledged. “But I’ll get used to it.”
And Mullin believes his experience in NBA front offices prepared him well for his new role of teaching college kids. He spent the last two seasons as a senior adviser for the Sacramento Kings; before that, he was the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors.
Rookies now come into the league as raw teenagers, Mullin explained, needing to hone basic basketball skills and mature off the court. Attend an NBA workout these days, he said, and “you would think it was a high school or college practice.”
Now Mullin will be the one running college practices.
As he contemplated taking the job, Mullin spoke to several others who attempted the transition from playing to coaching, including Larry Bird, Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson. His biggest takeaway: Nothing is more important than forming the right staff.
Mullin has already hired Matt Abdelmassih from Iowa State, who helped Fred Hoiberg achieve the feat Mullin is trying to match — building a winner at his alma mater with no previous head coaching experience. Abdelmassih, a former St. John’s student manager, is known as an ace recruiter, the area Mullin said he’ll need the most help from his assistants.
Mullin may be a native New Yorker, but he’s lived on the West Coast since leaving St. John’s three decades ago. He returns to a city that isn’t quite the recruiting hotbed it was when he starred in high school here.
“I understand the landscape has changed a little bit,” Mullin said. “I still think St. John’s needs to be first and foremost a New York City team.”
He promised to be a mainstay in high school gyms across the city.
“You don’t have to tell me where they are — I’ve played in all of them,” Mullin said, grinning. “I know how to get in the back doors. If not, I know the janitor.”
Still, athletic director Chris Monasch also mentioned Mullin’s NBA experience scouting not just in the U.S. but internationally as part of the appeal. Mullin said high school kids know him from video games these days, and that while he would touch on his NBA background in recruiting, it would be only one aspect of his pitch.
Of the Red Storm underclassmen who could turn pro, Mullin said, he had met with Chris Obekpa but not Rysheed Jordan. About his talk with Obekpa, who was suspended before the NCAA Tournament, Mullin would say only, “Talent usually makes a good coach.”
Over and over, Mullin reminisced about his relationship with Carnesecca. And Carnesecca recalled the lessons of his mentor, Joe Lapchick. Carnesecca passed along to Mullin a card he long ago received from Lapchick with the admonition, “Peacock today, feather duster tomorrow.”
Mullin was a five-time All-Star with Golden State and a member of the U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” in 1992 — he also won gold in 1984, playing for Bobby Knight. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Mullin said he wasn’t worried about tarnishing his legacy.
“There’s been other players that have not done well coaching,” he said, “and they’re still great, great players.”
Mullin replaces Steve Lavin, who agreed to leave last week after five seasons in which the Red Storm reached the NCAA Tournament twice. Mullin said he was first contacted about the job Friday.
“I looked at it as an obligation, first and foremost,” he said. “My desire to do it was there.”
He had the crowd roaring when he proclaimed that St. John’s could return to the heights of his playing days, when he led the team to the 1985 Final Four.
“No doubt about it,” Mullin said. “That’s why I’m here.”