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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / August 19.
  • St. John’s using Duke win to show recruits vision of what could be

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    NEW YORK — In the moments after St. John’s dramatic 81-77 win over No. 4 Duke on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, Chris Mullin met in his Garden office for about 15 minutes with two of the top recruits in the Class of 2019.

    Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine of the Ranney (N.J.) School are both ranked in the Top 10 in their class by ESPN.com, and both were invited to compete with USA Basketball and the NCAA during the Final Four in San Antonio.

    The Red Storm are 0-11 in the Big East heading into Wednesday night’s game at No. 1 Villanova, but Mullin used the dramatic moment to emphasize to Lewis and Antoine that this is what the future could look like: a rocking, packed Madison Square Garden full of fans watching St. John’s play in — and win – games against big-time opponents.

    “They went right in within a minute of the game ending and just had some time with Chris and Mitch [Richmond] and Matt [Abdelmassih] and Dan [Matic] and celebrating together, just enjoying the moment. [Mullin’s] wife and son were there,”  Brian Klatsky, director of the Team Rio National AAU program who was part of the meeting, told ZAGSBLOG.

    Mullin’s message about the St. John’s team was “they’ve been in this situation all year and they finally broke through,” Klatsky added. “He went through these kinds of things throughout his career [at St. John’s] and you’ve just to got persevere and stay with it. The kids really learned a lot from the early-season experience to win a game like that.”

    Mullin also pitched to Antoine and Lewis how they could be a part of the St. John’s vision going forward.

    “I think Chris has been talking to these guys since they were in eighth grade and telling them to just keep an eye on how the program evolves and keep the conversation going and track the progress,” Klatsky said. “And this was just another milestone for them to get excited about.”

    He added that this was a significant milestone for the recruits to see.

    “Nobody in their generation” has seen a win like this, Klatsky said.

    St. John’s has “talked about it for a few years now and to see it actually happen at the Garden and experience it and witness it, to me it had a better environment than a Knick game,” Klatsky said.

    The 6-5 Lewis is still planning to trim his college list to about half a dozen schools by May, but also plans on adding at least one school to the mix.

    “I cut my list to 12 schools, I’m hoping to cut it [again] to around six or seven in May,” Lewis said at the Hoophall Classic. “I’m going to be adding Notre Dame back into my recruitment list after taking them out of my 12. So that’s one of the biggest things that recently just happened.”

    Ranked No. 8 by ESPN, the 6-foot-5 Lewis currently lists St. John’s, Duke, Seton Hall, Maryland, Villanova, Stanford, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, Harvard, North Carolina and Colgate.

    Lewis previously listed Kentucky, Duke, Florida, Villanova and Harvard among those most consistent in his recruitment.

    Ranked No. 7 by ESPN, Antoine is being courted by Duke, Kentucky, Florida, Villanova, Harvard and Rutgers, among others, but has yet to issue a list.

    The two Class of 2019 stars have repeatedly said they may attend school together.

    Abdelmassih also used the win to reach out to Class of 2019 Team Rio and Westtown (PA) school point guard Jalen Gaffney, a Freehold, N.J. native who now lives in Columbus, N.J. and couldn’t attend the Duke game.

    “Coach Matt reached out on behalf of the staff that afternoon and mentioned that’s an example of why Jalen would be perfect in their system because Coach Mullin allows his guards to control the game,” said AD Gaffney, the player’s father. “He wants him to stay home and likes Jalen’s ability to shoot the ball as well as create off the dribble.”

    St. John’s sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds went off for 33 points in the Duke game, thereby underlining how guards can succeed and develop under Mullin.

    “Look at the evolution of Shamorie Ponds,” Klatsky said. “Here’s a guy who’s proven to the country that he’s a pro prospect, and the way Chris has developed him. Chris has been there to help him play that pro style and look at how well he played on that stage. Shamorie is really a great story for New York.”

    Mullin and his staff hope Ponds helps lead other top recruits to pick St. John’s going forward.

    ***

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.