After barely three weeks on the job, St. John's basketball coach Chris Mullin jokingly suggested that if he knew then what he knows now, he might not have taken the job. But he convinced ace recruiters Barry Rohrssen and Matt Abdelmassih to join his staff, quickly landed four recruits and, most importantly, managed to keep veterans Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa in the fold.
Mullin met briefly with reporters before the Metropolitan Basketball Writers awards dinner Wednesday night in Tarrytown, where Red Storm forward Sir'Dominic Pointer was honored with the Haggerty Award as player of the year in the area. Asked to confirm that Obekpa and Jordan are committed to return next season, Mullin said, "They were both in the gym today. Both of them have been a pleasure dealing with so far.
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"I didn't really sell them. I told them I'm here, I'm new. Whatever has happened in the past, good or bad, is in the past, and we move forward."
Both Obekpa and Jordan encountered disciplinary problems and were absent at times for a variety of reasons under predecessor Steve Lavin. But they will be counted upon for leadership, especially Jordan as a junior point guard.
"He's very gifted athletically," Mullin said of Jordan. "In just the week I've seen him [what he needs] is just a consistent approach. When you say the word 'discipline,' sometimes it has a negative connotation. But to me, discipline is really setting a schedule, sticking to it and being able to maintain it each and every day. That's the key. The great players in the pros do it every day."
At this stage of the current recruiting period, Mullin only can address players who officially are on the roster, so he was prohibited from talking about the recruits he's landed and those he still is pursuing. But the additions of Abdelmassih from Iowa State and especially Rohrssen, who was the top recruiter for Kentucky, have been an enormous plus.
"Getting Barry and Matt was huge for me because I need guys with experience in the college basketball world, and they've been at every different level," Mullin said.
Speaking of Rohrssen's decision to return to his New York roots, Mullin added, "I think it says a lot about St. John's tradition, New York City and our friendship, also. Our relationship goes way back. But I really think the tradition at St. John's has a lot to do with him being able to come back to New York City. He sees a tremendous opportunity here. We both do."
At this point, Rohrssen and Abdelmassih are the primary sounding boards for Mullin, but he expects to add to his coaching staff in the near future. In the meantime, he has been hard at work re-connecting with his New York basketball roots and reaching out to high school coaches throughout the area. "A lot of them I know, some coached when I played, some I played with and some were little kids," Mullin said with a smile.
"It runs the litany of age groups. I might know their dads, I might know their brothers. It's been good, but natural. Those are guys I normally would talk to, hang out with, bump into at a CYO game or something like that. That's a natural transition."
As a three-time winner of the Haggerty Award himself, Mullin then congratulated Pointer, who said of the honor: "It's a prestigious award. Many have won it from St. John's, so it's just a great feeling."