As a player, Chris Mullin wasn't known for his speed, but apparently, he's grown faster with age. Before flying to New York Tuesday to sign a contract to coach his alma mater and before St. John's formally announced his hiring, Mullin hit the ground running by luring ace recruiter Matt Abdelmassih from Iowa State to join his staff.
Abdelmassih, a Brooklyn native and St. John's grad who served as manager of the basketball team from 2004-07, was a key figure in helping Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg rebuild the program at his alma mater with no previous coaching experience, just as Mullin hopes to do. Before flying from Ames, Iowa, for Mullin's introductory news conference Wednesday, Abdelmassih announced his decision on Twitter: "I am going back to work at my alma mater, St. John's, a place that holds a special place in my heart.''
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Anticipating Wednesday's announcement at Carnesecca Arena, Abdelmassih told the Ames Tribune: "It will be absolutely surreal when you see coach [Lou] Carnesecca and Chris Mullin, two not only St. John's legends but basketball legends, together. And I'm in that mix. It's a crazy feeling.''
The word of the day was "surreal.'' Mullin used it in a statement issued by St. John's. "Obviously, it's a surreal experience coming home and returning to St. John's University,'' Mullin said. "This is a role I have been preparing for all my life.''
The hiring of Abdelmassih, who reportedly was making $220,000 per year at Iowa State, is a major step because Mullin is facing a major rebuild. The 30-year-old recruiter compared the situation to that faced by Hoiberg, who took over the Cyclones in 2010 and went .500 the first year before reaching four straight NCAA Tournaments.
"I feel the one thing I can bring is the blueprint,'' Abdelmassih told the Tribune. "It needs a quick fix. People are going to have to be patient . . . but I feel with the leadership of Chris Mullin, we'll get that place back to the prominence it deserves.''
Hoiberg expressed his understanding of Abdelmassih's decision and his admiration for Mullin, his teammate for two seasons on the Indiana Pacers. "Chris is one of the smartest basketball guys I've ever been around,'' Hoiberg said.
It was plenty smart to hire Abdelmassih, who has been heavily involved in recruiting 6-9 power forward Cheick Diallo, the 11th-ranked prospect in ESPN's top 100 who plays for Our Savior New American in Centereach. Iowa State is one of five finalists on Diallo's list, along with Kentucky, Kansas, Pitt and St. John's.
"Wow, that's pretty exciting,'' OSNA coach Ron Stelzer said of the news. "I've seen him around a lot. He has heavily recruited Cheick. Whether that translates into landing Cheick for St. John's, I have no idea.''
Stelzer was interested to learn that Kentucky assistant Barry Rohrssen, who has made numerous visits to watch Diallo, also might join Mullin. Diallo is in Chicago for tonight's McDonald's All-American game and hasn't talked to Stelzer about the changes at St. John's.
On Thursday, the day before being dismissed as Red Storm coach, Steve Lavin visited Diallo at OSNA. But Stelzer said, "I really didn't see him [often]. He was less visible than the other four schools Cheick is considering.
"They've all given him plenty of attention. I'd say St. John's gave him less attention than the others that I was aware of, but maybe some things happened that I wasn't aware of.''
With Mullin and Abdelmassih in place, top recruits may be assured of St. John's full attention.