The hire of Chris Mullin at St. John’s last spring was, of course, meant for a lot of fanfare. Mullin is a name that his synonymous with St. John’s and its glory days of the 1980’s. Plain and simple, his name resonates in New York basketball circles. But like I said in this column, Mullin is in for a rude awakening in his first year at the helm of his alma mater.
However, a couple of grad transfers in Pittsburgh’s Durand Johnson and Missouri State’s Ron Mvouika could help Mullin’s transition into college coaching a little more smoother.
The bottom line is Mullin needs all the help he can get. If you need reminding, the Red Storm lost their six top scorers from last season and basically the only members of ex-coach Steve Lavin’s squad who received any significant minutes. Gone from last year’s team that made the NCAA Tournament are D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Chris Obekpa, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch.
That’s some heavy personnel loss to absorb.
To you give you some depth as to what was lost, the three players that are returning from last season’s club (Amar Alibegovic, Christian Jones and Felix Balamou) scored a total of 90 points last year. Neither one of the aforementioned players averaged more than 9.2 minutes a game.
So, Mullin is basically working with a clean slate.
Helping him, though are two guys who have been a round the block.
Johnson, in particular, is an interesting case. In his time at Pittsburgh, he was always a grinder and someone who you can depend on to always work hard. While not eye-popping in talent by any stretch, Johnson is a reliable asset any coach would love to have.
While he missed the whole 2014-15 season with a torn ACL, in his last season (2013-14) with the Panthers he averaged 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game in 16 games. Considering he played in both the old Big East and the ACC under the stewardship of a great coach in Jamie Dixon, he definitely picked up a few things along the way.
With what he has learned from playing in two of college basketball’s premier conferences, he is looking to pass down that knowledge to the young players of St. John’s. It’s something he discussed with New York Post‘s Howie Kussoy.
“I’m definitely looking to step in and do my part to lead this team and lead us to where we want to be,” the graduate transfer said Wednesday at St. John’s media day (per the New York Post) “I’m letting the young guys know how serious it is in the Big East and college basketball in general, just letting them know how hard it is.”
— St. John's BBall (@StJohnsBBall) October 21, 2015
Also lending his experience is Mvouika.
Mvouika, who hails from France (sorry for the Coneheads reference), is another trustworthy player Mullin can lean on. He is a hard-nosed player who is all about sacrifice for the betterment of the team. While his stats won’t jump off the page (6.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 18.2 minutes per game in his last full season with Missouri State), he’ll give you everything he has.
That’s a trait he’s proud of, as he told Carmine Carcieri of Rumble in the Garden.
“I’m from the projects,” Mvouika said at Carnesecca Arena for St. John’s Media Day (per Rumble in the Garden). “You have to be tough in that environment but I just took it as a positive and it will be something that I will always carry around with me. Not a lot of people make it out of there and I always used that as a motivation to let everybody know what I will be on the court: a fighter. I just want people to know I’m a tough guy and a hard worker and I love to use my background and history.”
— Rumble In The Garden (@rumbleSBN) October 22, 2015
Again, you’re not getting any world beaters in Johnson and Mvouika; but the experience, toughness and willingness to lay it all on the line is something Mullin can count on. That kind of dependability is priceless these days.
With Mullin making headway on the recruiting trail, he will no doubt get the program moving in the right direction. This may turn out to be a bumpy ride at first, though, as the Red Storm were picked to finish last while at Big East media day.
That’s where having two established grad transfers in Johnson and Mvouika will hemp tremendously, because outside of them and Alibegovic, Jones and Balamou, no one on St. John’s roster has Division I experience.
While many members of the Red Storm roster are wet behind the ears, Johnson and Mvouika are certainly not, and if they can hold the team together maybe the Red Storm can surprise a few folks.