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.
St. John’s Hoping Turnaround on Court Helps Trigger Big Recruiting Class in 2018
NEW YORK — After winning just one Big East game last season in his first year coaching at his alma mater, Chris Mullin is hoping for a significant jump as he enters his sophomore season.
With the additions of players like Marcus LoVett, Bashir Ahmed and Shamorie Ponds, the Johnnies have an improved roster and should make a leap from last season’s 8-24 finish, 1-17 in the Big East.
“I hope to smile more, I hope to drive home with a better feeling,” Mullin said Thursday at St. John’s Media Day.
As much as the Johnnies want to improve for their own sake, it should also help recruiting going forward if they can get better on the court.
St. John’s technically has no scholarships available for the Class of 2017, but is eyeing a huge recruiting class in 2018, including targets like Moses Brown, Naz Reid, Luther Muhammad, Anthony Nelson, Sid Wilson and Jordan Brown.
“The biggest thing that you’re selling to prospective student-athletes is really at the end of the day you need to show on the court,” St. John’s assistant Matt Abdelmassih told me. “Everything you’re talking about, your vision, your plan for them all comes on the court, and we have to show improvement, there’s no doubt about that. I think certainly everyone within our program knows how important it is to show that everything we’re talking about — trying to return this program where it should be –really hinges on that improvement.
“And what improvement means win-total wise, who knows? But we feel like going into every game this year we have the guys that we can go to battle with and have a chance.”
Wins on the court don’t necessarily equate to wins in recruiting, but it can’t hurt.
The Johnnies also need to develop good relationships with their top targets and they have focused heavily on many of the players mentioned above.
The 7-1 Brown looked liked a future pro at Saturday night’s Sharette Dixon Classic. He’s being courted by everyone from Kansas to Duke to Louisville to Georgetown to Maryland to St. John’s.
“He likes Duke, his grandmother likes St. John’s to keep him close to home and I like Georgetown,” his father, Malcolm Brown, told me last month. “So we just gotta sit down and work it out. But it’s still early.”
“Personally, if I can hop in the car and go to a school, that certainly makes my life easier, I don’t have to sit in an airport and hit the planes,” Abdelmassih said.
“So you have to take advantage of the tri-state area, Connecticut and the New England area. You have such fertile recruiting ground and you can literally hop in the car. I view New Jersey as a part of New York, as much as maybe New Yorkers don’t want to hear that. At the end of the day, it really is. We’re in their back yard and I consider us a local school for them to consider. They have great options with local schools and I think we’re in that same backcourt with those other schools.”
The litany of NBA players to come out of Jersey in recent years is impressive: Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist — all guys who left the Garden State for Kentucky or Duke — were lottery picks. Jersey Boys Wade Baldwin, Malachi Richardson and DeAndre’ Bembry all went in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft.
“The reputation that New Jersey’s had over the last five, six years has been tremendous so you can’t neglect the state when they’re producing NBA talent like that,” Abdelmassih said. “We definitely want to enjoy the fruits of the labor of any New Jersey kid coming in that has that type of talent.”
Malik Ellison, the sophomore guard from Voorhees, N.J., and Life Center Academy, is the only Garden State product on the St. John’s roster, but he would like to see them add more.
“I feel like Jersey has the best basketball players, that’s just me,” said Ellison, the son of former No. 1 pick Pervis Ellison. “What got me here was the coaching staff, the trust, I just felt comfortable around them. New York is a great place to be in and I think that’s why they’re attracting more players from across the country, especially New Jersey.”
Ellison knows that improvement on the court this year could be critical in attracting more recruits from Jersey and elsewhere.
“I think that with the success the team has this year and in following years and also just the trust that they can get with our coaching staff, when they realize that this is a great opportunity, I don’t see why any player wouldn’t love to come here,” he said. “We got two Hall of Fame coaches [Mullin and Mitch Richmond], along with great other coaches here at St. John’s.”
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.