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.
Recruits learning about Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing through NBA 2K, YouTube
By ADAM ZAGORIAUNION, N.J. — Lester Quinones is a 17-year-old a junior wing at St. Benedict’s Prep who never saw Chris Mullin play a single NBA or college basketball game in real time.
But Quinones has played the current St. John’s coach on NBA 2K.
“[Mullin] does not miss in 2K,” Quinones, who holds a scholarship offer from St. John’s, said Sunday after scoring a game-high 23 points, including five three-pointers, to help lead unbeaten St. Benedict’s to a victory over Hudson Catholic in the SFIC Basketball Festival at Kean University. “He had about 40 with like nine three’s. He might shoot better than me.”
Kahlil Whitney is a 16-year-old junior wing at Roselle Catholic who never saw Mullin or Patrick Ewing play a single NBA or college basketball game in real time, either.
But Whitney has played the current St. John’s and Georgetown coaches on NBA 2K.
“Patrick Ewing is a dog on that game,” Whitney said after helping Roselle Catholic beat St. Mary’s-Elizabeth at the event. “He plays hard all the time, got a lot of technical fouls. He pretty much was a bruiser.
“Those guys are Hall of Famers, so I look up to them and it would be great playing for one of them Hall of Fame coaches when I get to the next level.”
As Mullin and Ewing get set to face off for the first time as college coaches on Tuesday night — when Georgetown (9-3, 1-3 Big East) visits St. John’s (10-6, 0-4) in an old-school Big East game at Madison Square Garden — the two coaches are also battling it out on the recruiting front.
St. John’s and Georgetown are among the schools hoping to land Class of 2019 players like Quinones, Whitney and Kofi Cockburn, a 6-11 big man who, like Ewing, hails from Jamaica, and now stars at Christ the King High School.
But since Mullin played his last NBA game in 2001 and Ewing played his final game in 2002, the recruits must learn about the NBA legends through modern vehicles likes NBA 2K and YouTube.
“They haven’t seen them play, they know they were good players,” Oz Cross, who coaches Quinones and fellow Class of 2019 star Precious Achiuwa with the New Heights AAU program, said of the teenage recruits.
Cross, 39, added that having Ewing and Mullin out recruiting has more of an effect on the fathers and coaches of the recruits than on the recruits themselves.
“I’m excited because Chris Mullin is one of my favorite players of all time,” Cross said. “I’m from New York. I grew up watching Patrick Ewing so I’m excited to see those guys but to the kids, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, it’s not like it’s LeBron James or Steph Curry walking in. They would be excited for those guys. They know those guys [Mullin and Ewing] were NBA players but it’s not the same as, say, Lester’s dad or myself or another coach watching those guys.”
Dave Boff, who coaches Whitney at Roselle Catholic, echoed a similar sentiment, pointing out that he and his athletic director, John Ahmuty, made a special point to personally greet Mullin the first time he visited the school to watch recruits.
“We’re so blessed to have had the number of elite-level coaches come through the gym that it used to be such a huge deal for everybody at Roselle Catholic when guys like [John] Calipari or [Jim] Boeheim would come into the gym,” Boff said.
“Not that it’s not still cool, but it’s somewhat commonplace that guys like that are around. But I do remember the first time Mullin came and the first time Ewing was supposed to come, I don’t think he was able to come that day, but both times my athletic director said to me, ‘Hey, when those guys get here, make sure you let me know so I can go say hello.’ He never asks anymore who’s coming to the gym for open gym, but when he heard Ewing and Mullin might be there he wanted to make sure that he got a chance to go shake their hands. I know it’s something that coaches and guys my age, we really understand how great those guys were. I hope those guys that they’re recruiting take the time to learn how great those guys were.”
Having been born and raised in Jamaica before coming to the United States several years ago, Cockburn had heard all about Ewing, the former Georgetown and Knicks star who took over as coach of his alma mater before this season.
“I always heard about him in Jamaica and stuff,” Cockburn said of Ewing.
Asked what Ewing’s recruiting message is, he said, “I’ll see the footwork and he’s got great footwork. And that’s one of my strengths. I work on my low post moves. He just wants to get me better. He wants to improve me in basketball and help to get everyone better.”
Still, when Cockburn compares his game to that of particular NBA players, he points to contemporary stars like Andre Drummond and DeMarcus Cousins.
“Kofi likes the comparison of DeMarcus Cousins,” said Karriem Memminger, who coaches Cockburn with the NY Rens AAU team. “He can do a lot of things that people are going to see. I like those two comparisons. You can’t go wrong being compared to Andre Drummond or DeMarcus Cousins.”
As part of their recruiting pitches, Ewing and Mullin — and their staffs — convey to recruits that because they played in the NBA, they know what it takes to get there, and they can, in turn, help develop recruits to play professionally.
Does that give them an advantage in recruiting?
“I don’t know how much of an advantage it gives those schools over other schools,” Boff said. “I think for kids it still comes down to, are they going to go some place and have success, an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament and then, of course, developing to hopefully play professionally someplace?”
Speaking as one recruit, Whitney said: “I mean, it’s a plus. You always look at Hall of Famers, and you look at people that played in the league, you look at them as they can get you to the next level? So that’s always a plus in recruiting.”
Photo: NY Post
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.