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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

Chris Mullin will have to build Red Storm from scratch

File photo of former St. John's star Chris

File photo of former St. John's star Chris Mullin. (April 22, 2004) Credit: KRT

When the news conference announcing his hiring as St. John's basketball coach ends Wednesday, Chris Mullin just might ask himself, "What have I gotten myself into?"

He's removing himself from the trophy case and the record book as the bygone school hero to stand on the sideline, where he will be out front not only as the face of the program but as the target for blame if things go wrong. As a first-time coach, Mullin essentially is working without a net of experience to fall back on.

But the biggest problem he's facing is the mess Steve Lavin left behind that led to his dismissal. The cupboard is utterly bare.

The graduation of D'Angelo Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene and Jamal Branch wiped out the veteran core of this season's 21-12 NCAA team. Junior center Chris Obekpa and sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan conceivably could return, but they are just as likely to declare for the NBA draft.

Beyond those two, there's nothing to build upon. Benchwarmers Amar Alibegovic, Felix Balamou and Christian Jones played sparingly, and they haven't shown they can fill an expanded role at the Big East level.

Despite reopening his recruitment after Lavin was let go, Brandon Sampson reportedly has indicated he's interested in hearing what Mullin might have to say, but the connection between St. John's and Sampson, and the other two recruits for next season, remains tenuous at best.

It's a far cry from Lavin's first season, when he inherited 10 seniors and bought time and goodwill by getting them to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, Mullin should enjoy an outpouring of support from fans eager to hail the return of the greatest player in school history. But skeptics have been quick to point out that Mullin doesn't get to lace up his sneakers and take the court again.

How much patience will St. John's fans show as Mullin begins to rebuild the program from scratch? In this age of social media, there is no shortage of snarky snipers.

Circumstances suggest it will take time before Mullin can build the sustainable program Lavin and several others before him failed to accomplish. It's very late in the recruiting game to cobble some semblance of a team together for next season. It would have been difficult for Lavin had he remained in place, and the degree of difficulty is multiplied for Mullin, who first must assemble his staff.

Early reports of the names he's targeting are encouraging. But would ace recruiter Barry Rohrssen leave Kentucky? Iowa State has been considered by many to be the front-runner to land Cheick Diallo of Our Savior New American in Centereach because of the efforts of Iowa State recruiter Matt Abdelmassih. What are the chance he jumps Fred Hoiberg's ship to join Mullin and brings Diallo with him? Would Ed Pinckney leave the Chicago Bulls to join the staff of a Big East rival of his alma mater, Villanova?

Where will Mullin find a veteran coach to help him over the rough spots as he makes the transition from his front-office role with the Sacramento Kings?

Perhaps Mullin will offer some answers to those questions when he is introduced at Wednesday's planned news conference. But there is no mistaking the excitement within the St. John's community.

If we know anything about Mullin, it's that he's super-competitive and street-smart. There's no doubt he will revive connections with the New York metro area recruiting scene and re-energize a program that was running on empty.

It might not happen overnight, but no one is better equipped than Chris Mullin to make St. John's matter again.

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