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Chris Mullin's inexperienced St. John's team to face early challenge in Hawaii

NBA Hall of Famer and alumni Chris Mullin

NBA Hall of Famer and alumni Chris Mullin looks on at Mullin's head coach introductory press conference at Carnesecca Arena on April 1, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

It won't take long for St. John's to run into its first challenge under Chris Mullin.

The Maui Jim Maui Invitational Championship Round bracket was released Tuesday, and the Red Storm will face Vanderbilt in the opening game on Nov. 23.

St. John's has not released its full 2015-16 schedule.

Vanderbilt returns nearly every key player from last year's young team, which went 21-14 (9-9 SEC) despite ranking 347th in experience among Division I teams, according to advanced stats site Kenpom's overall ratings placed the Commodores at No. 36 last year.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Kansas, Indiana and UCLA -- each of which could appear in preseason Top 25 polls -- are also in the field, as are UNLV, Wake Forest and D-II Chaminade.

"It's a daunting challenge," Mullin said Tuesday on a conference call organized by the event, "but something we look forward to."

That challenge will be augmented by the Red Storm's inexperience. With graduations, Chris Obekpa's transfer and Rysheed Jordan's decision to pursue a professional basketball career, St. John's lost its top six scorers. No returning player logged more than 9.2 minutes per game.

The Red Storm has seven newcomers expected to be eligible, highlighted by 4-star freshman point guard Marcus LoVett Jr. and Pittsburgh graduate transfer Durand Johnson, a 6-6 forward. But Johnson has not played since 2013-14, his sophomore season.

Mullin said he thought the challenge in Maui would only benefit his young team, which will include four freshmen and a sophomore junior college transfer in Darien Williams.

Mullin, who played for Lou Carnesecca at St. John's, said he will follow his coach's blueprint for motivating his team to prepare.

"If we were having a shaky practice," Mullin said, "he would say, 'Listen guys, in about a week you're going to be in Madison Square Garden. If you don't prepare yourself, you'll get embarrassed.' "

The stage will be different, but the message will be the same.

As summer workouts have progressed, Mullin said his staff has not "done a lot of basketball stuff" with the team. He said only six players have consistently been on campus to work out, and they have spent most of their training time on skills and conditioning.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of evaluating," Mullin said. "It's been really setting the tone of how we're going to train, what's going to be expected of them, pace, things like that. I've been really impressed with their dedication."


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