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.
As standoff hangs over St. John’s, staff changes await
By ADAM ZAGORIAMINNEAPOLIS — St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg was here at the Final Four this past weekend, while St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin was not.
The new St. John’s AD and the school’s legendary coach remain in a standoff after Cragg declined to give Mullin a contract extension, multiple sources said. Mullin, 55, has two years and about $4 million remaining on his deal. If he remains the coach going into next season, he will be one year removed from being a lame duck, not an ideal situation for any coach.
“Let me be clear and I said from the start, Coach Mullin is our head coach and we are not looking for another head coach,” Cragg said on Saturday in a statement that has marked his only comments on the matter.
Mullin, meantime, has not spoken publicly since the end of the season, and did not respond to text messages seeking comment.
At some point, whether he has an extension in hand or not, Mullin also has staff hires to make. With ace recruiter Matt Abdelmassih heading to Nebraska to join Fred Hoiberg, St. John’s needs help.
Western Kentucky assistant Marc Hsu, a Queens native who is known as a strong recruiter, and Andy Borman, who now coaches the powerhouse NY Rens on the Nike EYBL circuit and is an alum of Duke (where Cragg worked), are among the top candidates to replace Abdelmassih, sources said.
If Mullin shifts his staff around, it’s possible he could also bring in two new assistants before the 2019-20 season.
Under the new, post-Rice Commission recruiting calendar, the NCAA spring evaluation period beings April 26-28 and St. John’s — along with every other Division 1 school — will need to be out recruiting.
After that, the next evaluation periods aren’t until June (for high school settings) and July (for AAU and USA Basketball events).
Keep in mind that St. John’s probably needs two guards with the decommitment of junior college point guard Cam Mack and with Shamorie Ponds heading to the NBA Draft. The Johnnies also need a big man.
Mullin and his current assistants, Greg St. Jean and Mitch Richmond, can probably get through the spring, and maybe the summer, with their current group, but some interesting decisions will have to be made.
If Mullin wants someone in place before late April (and the summer), he could hire Hsu, who recruited current St. John’s wing L.J. Figueroa to New Mexico State.
Hsu also recruited four-star guard Dalano Banton to Western Kentucky, and helped recruit five-star big man Charles Bassey there.
Hsu has also contributed to winning programs at Binghamton, Texas Southern, Cal State-Bakersfield, New Mexico State and now Western Kentucky, which this season won 20 games and beat four teams in the top 30 while reaching the Conference USA hampionship game for the second straight season.
Borman, meantime, is a highly respected grassroots coach and effective communicator who in recent years has coached the likes of Hamidou Diallo, Jordan Nwora, Jose Alvarado, Kofi Cockburn and Jalen Lecque.
The current Rens squad features 2020 St. John’s commit Nate Tabor, who sources said was informed Mullin will still be the coach going forward.
The Rens also feature a number of top players with St. John’s offers, including R.J. Davis, Jonathan Kuminga, Lance Ware, Adama Sanogo and T.J. Morris.
Borman will be with these and other players all spring and summer after coaching them this past weekend at an event in Boston where the team went undefeated.
One theory is that it makes more sense for Mullin to wait until after July to make an addition if he’s going to hire Borman because Borman will then have spent the spring and summer coaching all these guys.
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.