Hall of Famer and St. John's legend Chris Mullin is entering into his first season as head coach of the Red Storm following the mutually agreed departure of Steve Lavin last March. This is Mullin's first time in a head coaching position and is tasked with the process of rebuilding the team for the long haul following a significant roster turnover from last season and the departure of Lavin.
In his playing career he led the then St. John's Redmen to the 1985 Final Four and its first #1 ranking since 1951. That season he took home the Wooden Award and the USBWA College Player of the Year honors as well. He is St. John's all-time leading scorer with 2,440 points over his four year career and the only player in Big East history to win Big East Player of the Year honors three times.
In his NBA career, he was a five time NBA All Star and played for the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers, and also a part of the 1992 US Men's Olympic Basketball team.
While he was stellar as a player, Mullin is now in a position where he must try to rebuild St. John's a program which has been on a boom and bust cycle for most of this decade. He was the face of St. John's in the 1980's and will look to do so once more.
Chris Obekpa (Transferred out)
Sir'Dominic Pointer (Graduated)
D'Angelo Harrison (Graduated)
Phil Greene (Graduated)
Jamal Branch (Declared for the NBA Draft)
Rysheed Jordan (Declared for the NBA Draft)
Joey De La Rosa (Transferred out)
Marcus LoVett (4* point guard; Chicago, IL; partial qualifier)
Malik Ellison (3* shooting guard; Burlington, NJ)
Federico Mussini(4* point guard; Reggio Emilia, RE)
Darien Williams (JUCO transfer)
Yankuba Sima (3* center; Delray Beach, FL)
Kassoum Yakwe (3* power forward; Centereach, NY; awaiting eligibility status)
Durand Johnson (Pittsburgh transfer)
Last Season at a Glance
Last season was bittersweet in a number of ways for St. John's, as the team experienced some definite highs along with a number of lows. Oddly enough, it would also come to define the Steve Lavin Era as well, as this team had the talent on paper to do great things but ultimately fell short of its potential.
That word potential though is interesting as at the start of the season, St. John's was considered an unknown quantity, but quickly demonstrated that there was significant talent as they busted right out of the gate to an 11-1 start before heading into Big East play.
Their play was anchored to the shooting of D'Angelo Harrison who had the touch to knock down shots though with a degree of occasional reckless in doing so as he would run hot and cold at intervals throughout the season. Though Harrison lead St. John's in scoring, his play was furthered along with the emergence of Sir'Dominic Pointer who was able to match his defensive prowess for the ball with an offensive charge towards the basket, often playing a significant role in movement on and off of the transition.
On defense, Chris Obekpa held court underneath the basket with utter efficiency on the rebound and especially on the block, often cutting down the lane to the basket.
While it was a strong form for non-conference and good for an early ranking, the Johnnies did enter into a free fall once Big East play resumed as they started off conference play by going 2-5 through their first seven games.
During this stretch they would go toe-to-toe against Duke as well in a near upset over the eventual National Champions. Following the poor start they would close out the season strong going 8-3 over the final stretch, good for an overall record of 10-8 in Big East play. While it was a solid finish in a sense, they would end the regular season on a low note losing to Villanova in a 105-68 blowout down in Philadelphia, an unfortunate sign of things to come.
Following the end of the regular season, Chris Obekpa would be suspended for a series of off-court issues, in which would lead to eventual transfer from the program at the end of the season.
In post season play, St. John's failed to show up for their game against Providence in the Big East Tournament losing 74-57. They would get a bid still to the NCAA Tournament, but fall in the Round of 64 to Steve Fisher's San Diego State Aztecs. This game would also be the last for Steve Lavin as he and St. John's agreed to mutually part ways later on in March.
While the talent was their for St. John's to do great things, last season was a microcosm of the bittersweet untapped potential that the Red Storm had be could never fully harness.
Three Reasons for Optimism
1. Chris Mullin: While this season will most likely be rough for St. John's it is refreshing to know at least that their greatest player is now on the sideline. While this is his first season as a head coach and at the helm of St. John's, Mullin does bring an image to this team, one that with the looks of it has a long term plan to rebuild. While this season does look to be a rough one, Mullin will serve as a guiding point for this teams growth.
2. Its a Fresh Start: This season is a massive restart for St. John's, who since the Mike Jarvis era have had tremendous ups and downs as a program. While the time under Steve Lavin did bring a certain degree of success, it was really only success in the short term with nothing sustainable going forward. With the start of this season, it brings the hope that it is the start of building something for the long term. This season will be a long one, but it's a chance to build it up from the ground.
3. Learning Curve: To follow up from point #2, along with this season being a fresh start playing in the Big East provides a significant learning curve for this young team. This year's rendition of the Big East is and will be one of the toughest conferences in the country. They are one of the younger teams in the conference and facing off against teams such as Georgetown and Villanova, will provide a significant learning curve going forward.
Three Reasons for Pessimism
1. Its Going to be a Long Season: This season is a clean season and massive reset for the program. While this is good for the long run, for these season it will be rather maddening to watch unfold, especially as the rest of the Big East has up ticked in talent, St. John's has to take a step back before being a part of it.
2. This may be the worst St. John's team since the 2004-05 season: In Norm Roberts' first season as head coach, he led the program to a record of 9-18 overall and 3-13 in Big East play. With what Chris Mullin has on his roster and given the fact that at the end of last season with the turnover and exoduses on the roster, there is a not a lot there that stands out for the Johnnies to find success or potentially come close to a .500 season in conference and decent success out of conference.
3. Lack of significant experience on the roster: As a team they lost 96 percent of their scoring, 92 percent of their rebounding, and 98 percent of their assists from last season heading into this season. Given the significant roster turnover and the influx of new talent such as freshmen Malik Ellison and Federico Mussini, as well as Pittsburgh transfer Durand Johnson. They will need time to develop player-wise and as a team as well.
Best Case Scenario
Honestly, the best case scenario for St. John's is tough to say with this team. Given the inexperience, complete roster turnover, and the fact that the Big East is without a doubt is going to be tougher. The best case though for St. John's is if they can start process of building the team up with the freshmen talent that they have.
They are going to earn their stripes this season in the Big East, its just going to be a serious process that won't happen over the course of a single game.
For Chris Mullin, the key thing will be to treat this season as the learning season, but if he can eek out six wins in conference play and eek out at least six wins in nonconference play would be considered a success for this team.
The real success is getting the best out of his freshmen players in their development. It's going to be a long season but if they can adapt and learn, it can be a more manageable one to handle.
Worst Case Scenario
This season has the potential to be one of the worst seasons for St. John's in recent memory. That may be a bit of hyperbole and extremely pessimistic, but considering the way the off season unfolded with the exodus of talent from the team there is not a lot that is going to bring success in the short run this season. The team struggles in nonconference play against teams such as St. Francis Brooklyn and Fordham to even remotely win a game.
In Big East play they struggle to adapt to the rigors of playing in the Big East and fail to win more than two games all season. Mullin struggles in his first year as head coach to get his team motivated or on the right track to adapt to the Big East. All of this will left to be seen, but for the time being this team does have a tall order ahead of themselves.
If the Red Storm can weather this storm of a season they'll be on the right foot going forward. The focus and aura at the moment is still on Chris Mullin coming back to St. John's to take over the reigns of this team following the bittersweet end of the Steve Lavin era.
This season brings the promise of it can only get better from here as the Johnnies will essentially be starting from scratch with what is one the roster, but much like clay it can be molded with time and patience. They lost essentially all of their offensive production with the depature of Harrison, Greene, and Pointer, as well as their defensive grit with the transfer of Chris Obekpa. While the losses are significant the good news is that it means this season will be a team effort to figure what will work and what will not.
Fortunately for the Johnnies as well is that Mullin will also have on board an experienced coaching staff that features former Iowa State assistant coach Matt Adelmassih and former Pittsburgh and Kentucky assistant Barry "Slice" Rohrssen, both of whom have been major assets for their prior teams and will also play a major role in developing this team.
Looking at their nonconference slate, St. John's' trip to Maui to face off against the likes of Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Indiana will be crucial match ups early on for this team, as well as their games against Syracuse in December. These games will test the team early on before heading into the rigors of Big East play.
Speaking of Big East play, this season could prove to be the toughest yet. Not only just for the Johnnies, but for every team in the conference.
Right off the bat following their tip off game against Creighton on December 31st, the Red Storm make their first trip to Providence on January 2nd, which should be telling at that point into the season as to how far they have developed as a team. In general though, the road games for St. John's are going to be interesting affairs as those will be the ones that will help the team and Chris Mullin with his coaching going forward. In particular their trips to Butler, Xavier, and Georgetown should be interesting to watch and see how this team handles the pressures of playing on the road.
On an optimistic note, while this season my not bode well in terms of record for the Johnnies, they do have the potential to snatch wins from DePaul, Creighton, and Seton Hall. Three other teams in the conference that may either struggle this season or be in the midst of a rebuild as well.
Overall, this team is going to have to fight for everything this season, as they will encounter some serious talent both within conference play and outside of conference play. If Mullin can harness the best abilities out of this team and look to a potential strength in the backcourt then this team could potentially be looking at a ten win season, a modest success.
It's going to be tough and St. John's this season may unfortunately be looking at a last place finish this season and a very early Big East Tournament exit.
Hopefully the struggles are only in the short run and leads to run of success beyond this season.