When Chris Mullin became head coach at St. John’s in 2015, he believed he could return the program to national prominence.
“That’s first and foremost why I came back here,” Mullin said on Tiki and Tierney. “If I didn’t believe that, I would have never came back.”
St. John’s hasn’t made the Final Four since 1985, when Mullin was named Naismith Player of the Year, and it hasn’t reached the Elight Eight since 1999, when Ron Artest was a third-team All-American.
While the Red Storm (12-13) may not get to that level this season, they’ve had a pretty good week. They beat then-No. 4 Duke, 81-77, on Feb. 3 and stunned No. 1 Villanova, 79-75, on the road Feb. 7.
“This week, that’s what it takes,” Mullin said. “It takes breaking through. It takes time, of course, and things are cyclical, but once you gain some momentum, you get the right players and you have the right system in place – it’s been done. It’s not something that was just established within the last 20 or 30 years. This is one of the greatest college basketball programs in the country, and there’s no reason it can’t get back to where it was. This week is a good testament to that. Now it takes just some more consistency. I think we’ll be on our way.”
St. John’s had started 0-11 in Big East play, but eight of the losses came by seven points or fewer, including two losses to Georgetown. Indeed, Mullin’s old rival, Patrick Ewing, won both games: 69-66 on Jan. 9 and 93-89 in double overtime on Jan. 20.
St. John’s/Georgetown was once one of the best rivalries in college basketball, if not the best. Mullin and Ewing get along fine now, but back in the ’80s? Not quite.
“Yeah, the first time we played at the Garden, it was kind of strange,” Mullin said. “We were coming into shoot-around, they were leaving, and we literally bumped into each other. We were smiling and hugging, like, ‘This is kind of not supposed to be like this. We’re supposed to be ignoring each other and going in different doorways.’ But time heals all.”
St. John’s hosts Marquette (14-10) this Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.