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How NCAA Tournament berth will boost the St. John's men's basketball program

Head coach Chris Mullin of the St. John's

Head coach Chris Mullin of the St. John's Red Storm speaks with assistant coach Greg St. Jean against the DePaul Blue Demons during the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. Credit: Steven Ryan

DAYTON, Ohio – It doesn’t matter that St. John’s was the last team selected to this NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm got in, and inevitably that is going to change things.

The Storm had not been in the tournament since 2015, and the program had drifted from relevance soon after the bump it got from bringing back favorite son Chris Mullin to be coach. Since then, the coaching staff has been bringing in talent with the promise of restoring a once-great name. St. John’s is far from fully restored after one NCAA Tournament appearance, but now it has something that will be attractive to recruits out of high school or looking to transfer.

“People understand that what we’ve been telling them, it comes to fruition,” Mullin told Newsday. “I think it will have an impact on both. The high school recruit sees something to build upon and not just building from scratch. And a lot of the transfers? Many are coming from schools that are in [the NCAAs], but they aren’t playing. What they see is a team that’s already at that level, and maybe they see they can make a difference to take it beyond that.”

The ripple effect of making the NCAAs is likely to be felt all over the university and the athletic department. When a school makes the tourney and receives the exposure that comes with it, applications usually rise, alumni support generally ticks up, ticket sales tend to jump and the program almost certainly becomes a potential destination for recruits when it was not before.

“The impact is almost immeasurable,” Mullin said. “It’s nationwide – maybe worldwide – the idea of St. John’s changes.”

Or at the very least returns to what it was a generation or two before.

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley can speak to exactly how a return to the tournament will help a program. Last year, in his fourth season in Tempe, Hurley got the Sun Devils back to the Big Dance. ASU made the field for the first time since 2014, losing in the First Four to Syracuse.

“Our program is pretty energized at the moment. I think people are very enthusiastic about what we're building and where the direction of the program is going,” Hurley said. “Our attendance numbers were outstanding again this year at home, and there's great enthusiasm in our community about the team.

“And we're recruiting better. We're bringing in some talented guys. And Arizona State basketball is pretty relevant.”

All of that is exactly what the dyed-in-the-wool St. John’s fans have craved.

“It changes [impressions], all in a positive way,” Mullin said. “I do think the people who have watched the progression can appreciate the journey we’ve taken. But there’s no question that overnight, the people that didn’t know will start looking up St. John’s . . . because of the exposure.”

But just because St. John’s could become a hot name doesn’t mean Mullin and his staff will zero in on the higher-rated prospects who suddenly come around. The calculus is more complicated.

“This helps with our profile, energy and exposure, but you don’t want kids just for that – that’s where someone can make a mistake, [deciding] on emotion,” Mullin said. “You still have to be a fit, play our style of play, fit in with the coaches and players. That’s still got to trump other factors. This does help, though.”

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