Chris Mullin and St. John’s hope to return to the NCAA Big Dance

Jaime C. Harris | 3/14/2019, 11:28 a.m.
It’s been four years since the St. John’s men’s basketball program has been a part of the National Collegiate Athletic ...
St. John's basketball great Chris Mullin is endeavoring to lead the program to it's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015. Contributed

It’s been four years since the St. John’s men’s basketball program has been a part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason tournament, commonly known as the Big Dance. The storied history of St. John’s basketball, established by the great Joe Lapchick in the late 1930s, has not been consistently upheld since the legendary Lou Carnesecca coached his final game for the university in 1992.

Brian Mahoney, Fran Fraschilla, Mike Jarvis, Norm Roberts and Steve Lavin in succession could not either sustain or revive the culture of St. John’s being one of the country’s premiere programs. Now Chris Mullin, New York basketball royalty, who built the foundation for his Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame career first on the city’s playgrounds, then with the iconic Riverside Church AAU powerhouse, and Power Memorial and Xaverian High Schools, before entering the nation’s consciousness as an All-American at St. John’s, is charged with returning the Red Storm back to prominence, reminiscent of the times when he and Walter Berry led them to a 31-4 record and the Final Four in 1984.

It has been a slow and arduous process for Mullin. He is in his third season as the head coach and still seeking a bid to the NCAA postseason tournament field. Despite sterling credentials and New York cred, Mullin has fallen short of attracting the area’s five-star recruits that are the lifeblood of championship contenders. St. John’s junior point guard, Shamorie Ponds from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, the team’s leading scorer, is Mullin’s highest rated get thus far. In the past three years, current NBA players Hamidou Diallo (Kentucky), Mohamed Bamba (Texas) and Cheick Diallo (Kansas) have all bypassed St. John’s.

The cycle has repeated itself as Cole Anthony, who played his first three years of high school ball at Archbishop Molloy in Queens, a McDonald’s All-American, the country’s No. 1 ranked high school point guard in the class of 2019, a potential 2020 NBA lottery pick and the son of former Knick Greg Anthony, does not have St. John’s on his final list of colleges he’s considering.

Mullin and the Red Storm have had a solid 2018-19 season. They entered the Big East Tournament last night at Madison Square Garden facing DePaul 20-11 overall and 8-10 in the conference. Their chances of being selected to the NCAA tournament were favorable but not certain prior to the game’s outcome. A bid would be uplifting for the program and a sign of progress. Failing to be a part of March Madness would undoubtedly be a major setback for Mullin’s rebuilding plan.