On their first official day of practice Tuesday, the Nets got a surprise visit from a Brooklyn hoops legend. St. John’s coach Chris Mullin, Hall of Famer and two-time Olympic champion, texted new Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, a longtime friend, to say he’d like to drop in.
Mullin showed up with Red Storm assistant Greg St. Jean in tow and sat through the entire practice. “I do want to make a connection with the area college coaches, being from here,” said Atkinson, a Northport native who played at St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington. “It’s not just Chris Mullin, it’s Tim Cluess at Iona, (Kevin) Willard at Seton Hall. I think it’s kind of cool.
“So, I had been texting with Chris. I was shocked. He texted me yesterday and said, ‘I’d love to come by.’ For Chris, Brooklyn-born, Brooklyn-bred, Xaverian, a great player, I wanted him to say hello to our players. I think it’s good for our players to be aware of a little bit of history of Brooklyn basketball. He’s obviously one of the pillars or best players ever. It’s great.”
Mullin said he has known Atkinson since the early 1990s when he still was in the midst of his NBA playing career. “I was living on Long Island in the offseason, and I used to play out there in the offseason,” Mullin said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He just loves the game and does it for the right reasons. I’m happy for him. He’s a really good guy.”
Atkinson is known as a top player development coach, and that’s an important emphasis for Mullin in his program at St. John’s.
“It all starts from that foundation, which is development and having players that can execute,” Mullin said. “That’s one of his strong backgrounds. He’s been around all different areas of coaching, and it’s great for him, a hometown kid.”