The search for a head basketball coach at St. John’s went on through nine arduous days after the school and Chris Mullin, the last great hope to bring the program back to its glory days, agreed to part. It was a time that featured plenty of prominent names and hype before the candidates removed themselves from the running, along with an episode involving booster and alumnus Mike Repole, who ripped the school’s president on WFAN.
And when it finally was over Friday afternoon with the introduction of new coach Mike Anderson, St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg said he had missed the furor.
“I turned off social media a week ago,” Cragg said. That likely was a wise decision, if true, to avoid the panic that arose with each name passing on the Red Storm.
What Cragg did do was talk to his network of advisers. And after names such as Bobby Hurley and Porter Moser passed on a challenge that had humbled Hall of Famer Mullin, the AD finally got a lead on Wednesday.
Cragg, who spent three decades at Duke, got a text from former Duke guard and current Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel.
“I knew what we needed and I had to find [someone] who matched that,” Cragg said. “I got a text on Wednesday morning from Coach Capel and it said, ‘Have you thought about Mike Anderson?’ I said I’ve actually looked into it and I said, ‘Tell me more.’
“Instead of texting, I just picked up the phone and he told me about Coach Anderson. Obviously, we’re all close. Jeff is one of my closest friends. His wife, Kanika, over their breakfast table, said, ‘Have you told Mike about Coach Anderson?’ So obviously that was the starting point. I said, well, find out if he’d be interested. I didn’t know the back story of that. He got his phone number. Then I called Coach K [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski]. I don’t need to go very far. He had been involved in my play-by-play, and he said, ‘Wow. If you can get him, that’d be amazing.’ And so guess what I did.”
While the network may have laid the groundwork, there certainly is plenty of work to be done by Cragg, Anderson and St. John’s.
Anderson doesn’t come with the St. John’s or New York pedigree that Mullin did — something that was evident as he spoke of a planned trip to see the Nets’ playoff game Saturday but called them the New Jersey Nets. His wife, Marcheita, corrected him, prompting Anderson to joke, “I see you guys got a chance to meet my wife. Her name is Marcheita. She’s my point guard. She points out every little thing I do wrong. You just heard it.”
She certainly won’t be alone if things don’t work out.
Anderson is a lifer, having played for Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and worked alongside him at Arkansas for 17 years as an assistant and associate head coach before heading out on his own with head-coaching stops at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Missouri and Arkansas. He’s never had a losing season as a head coach.
He has taken from Richardson the style referred to as “40 minutes of hell.”
“We played in-your-face attack basketball, pressure defense,” Anderson said. “They called it ‘40 minutes of hell.’ But I always caution people, early on it might be like 30 minutes of hell and 10 minutes of what the hell are you doing? But trust me, it smooths on out . . .
“For the fans, it’s exciting. When you come into that arena for two hours, it’s going to be sheer entertainment. You go to the bathroom during a break, you’re going to miss something. I’m going to tell you that. It’s just that fast. I can’t wait to roll my sleeves up and go to work.”
Anderson said his day began Friday by making early-morning calls to the holdover players in the program, trying to convince them that this is going to work.
“When you walk through here, Madison Square Garden, for me, maybe I’m old school, but that’s not a bad way of thinking,” Anderson said. “There is so much to offer here. I can sense it as I talk to people. They’re thirsting for it. They’re hungry for good basketball. People want to be entertained. It ain’t just entertainment. We’re talking about winning basketball.”