When Chris Mullin returned to St. John's on April 1 to take over the basketball program, the Red Storm's cupboard was almost bare of talent, and most other programs had a huge head start with the remaining top recruits available.
But Mullin and top assistants Barry Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih succeeded in bringing 10 new players to the Queens campus, including two consensus four-star recruits in point guard Marcus LoVett, who attended Chicago's Morgan Park High School, and athletic 6-7 wing man Kassoum Yakwe, a native of Mali who attended Our Savior New American in Centereach.
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For each, the last-minute decision to attend St. John's came down to the chance to play for Mullin, a Hall of Famer who spent the 30 years since his St. John's career ended either playing or working in the NBA.
"It was Mullin, definitely Mullin," LoVett said Wednesday during Red Storm media day. "All his accolades, Hall of Fame, 'Dream Team,' and he's been in the league for a while. He knows the ropes to everything, and I wanted to be coached by him. It was just automatic for me to come here."
Oddly enough, LoVett was well aware of Mullin's identity because of a connection in AAU ball. "The funny thing is that in second or third grade, I was at a tournament in Las Vegas, and I played against [one of Mullin's three sons]," LoVett said. "I saw him there. To be coached by him now is kind of crazy."
Yakwe was familiar with St. John's because OSNA alums Chris Obekpa and Felix Balamou played for the Red Storm, and he was being recruited by previous coach Steve Lavin. Obekpa eventually transferred, but that didn't dissuade Yakwe.
"I know that he played in the NBA, and he knows a lot about the game," Yakwe said of Mullin. "One of my dreams is to play in the NBA . . . I visited a lot of schools before I came here, Oregon, Iowa State, Pittsburgh. After all those visits, I decided to come here because I know I will learn a lot from the coach and be a great player."
Going to St. John's is like staying near his second home for Yakwe because he's near his host family at OSNA, his high school friends and Balamou. "It's definitely comfortable to be around people you already know," Yakwe said. "There's no stress. They will always support you."
LoVett and Yakwe still are waiting on NCAA clearance regarding their eligibility this season, according to a school source who said it's part of the normal process.
In the meantime, they're enjoying the process of building a new Red Storm team virtually from scratch. "Even though we have a lot of new players from different places, I think we will be fine," Yakwe said. "I can see that we are not a team that's selfish."
St. John's was picked a solid last in the Big East preseason poll, but when asked for his vision of the future, LoVett said, "Powerhouse. We've already had some incoming recruits for next year. I think we're going to be something to talk about."