By Tom Ballato
In March of 2015, Chris Mullin accepted the men’s basketball coaching position at St. John’s University. He had his work cut out for him replacing former head coach Steve Lavin’s prized recruiting class that featured D’angelo Harrison, Sir’ Dominick Pointer, and Phil Greene IV. There were some players that remained at St. John’s from the Lavin era and some other who left once Mullin took over. When it was all said and done a total of eleven students graduated, transferred. or left to go play professionally. The rebuilding process was underway in Queens.
Mullin started filling out the roster. He started with four transfers, Durant Johnson (from Pittsburgh) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri St.), who were graduate students, Darien Williams (City College of San Francisco) and Tariq Owens (Tennessee). He then recruited five freshman, Marcus Lovett Jr., Kasssoum Yakwe, Yankuba Sima, Malik Ellison, and Federico Mussini who came from Italy.
It was a tough first season at St. John’s for Chris Mullin. One of Mullin’s top recruits Marcus Lovett Jr. was ineligible and eventually ended up redshirting to start the season. The team finished with a 8-24 overall record and had a 1-17 record in Big East Conference games. The team lost a bunch of close games, but Mullin got his team to play hard night in and night out. One of the bright spots from that season was upsetting Syracuse at home 84-72.
Mullin’s first year at St. John’s experienced growing pains, but with St. John’s currently 12-0 and headed in the right direction, it is hard not to look back and say it was all worth it. I spoke with Ron Mvouika (who was a graduate transfer in Mullin’s first year) about his time at St. John’s and about his post colligate career.
What made St. John’s the right fit when you transferred in?
When Coach Mullin first got back to St John’s, the program was in a rebuilding process. They’ve lost all the great seniors that they had such as Phil Greene, D’angelo Harrison, Sir’ Dominick (Pointer), and guys like Chris Obekpa and Rysheed Jordan, who decided to go another route. So we were starting from scratch. I was a 5th year graduate student and my job was to come and bring my experience to the table and do my best to lead the younger guys. We had a very young team coming in so I knew my role was going to be major on and off the court.
St. John’s is now being called Transfer U. You were one of the pieces along with Durant Johnson that transferred in that started St. John’s becoming a transfer landing spot. What are your thoughts about building a roster full of transfers?
Coach Mullin’s first year was exceptional because he didn’t have a choice, but to get a roster with transfers and foreign players. Mullin got job a few months before the summer and 9 times out of 10, players are getting recruited over the year or years. The coaching staff had to come up with something fast. Coming up with something fast, but good enough to at least compete with the best of them because the Big East could arguably be the best conference in the nation. We had a very bad and tough year, but a lot of positivity came out of it and I guess landing transfers was one of them. It’s not hard to land and persuade a player to come play in New York City, at Madison Square Garden for two NBA hall of famers. I don’t see anything wrong with it, as long as the new players understand and want to buy in into the school tradition, history and philosophy. Schools don’t have any problems letting a player go if they don’t play well or don’t fit in the system. I don’t see why it would be a problem for a player to leave and go elsewhere if that’s the best decision for him to do so.
You only played one season at St. John’s, but became a fan favorite due to your enthusiasm and hard work in a down season. How would you describe your time in Queens?
I loved everything about my time at St John’s. The losing was the hardest part about it, but I knew what I was getting myself into from the beginning. My approach of course, was to try to win every single game. I also knew that we were going to be that team who will have to go through all the losses to help teams in the future win. I felt like as long as we were bringing our bricks to build that big successful wall that we have today, I can look at myself in the mirror and be proud of my squad and the coaching staff forever. Some people never understood why my love for St John’s is so big and I will use this outlet to express myself, but St John’s gave me an opportunity to play basketball again. Everybody wrote me off after I had back surgery. I had no school and no where to bounce back, after Missouri State wrongly closed the door on me. I have no hard feelings because it was part of God’s plan. I love the city of New York, it’s my second favorite city in the world behind Paris. I always felt like a New Yorker at heart, so when Coach Mullin, Coach Matt, Coach Greg called me to make it official, there was nothing else to talk about and I will be forever grateful towards these guy and the program, forever.
How did Coach Mullin run the offense while you were there to accommodate all the newcomers?
Coach Mullin offense is really easy to adapt to simply because he gives players freedom. He’s not like these coaches that will ask you to make 15 passes before taking a shot. The style of play is very free and open, as long as you respect spacing, you run the floor and you defend hard. He comes from the NBA and brought his NBA experience into the game and made a couple of arrangements into the college style of play and it worked out very well. Every players dream is to play for a coach that will let you be yourself at all costs so it was really easy for pretty much everybody to adapt. Coach Mullin will sub you out the game if you don’t shoot the ball, that says a lot about how he views his players and how much he trust them.
How is your professional career going so far? Where have you played and what have your roles been?
Coming out of college, it was quite hard. I played for the French National team, but didn’t get the right contract or fit for me. I ended up getting drafted to the G-League, but it also didn’t end up well, simply because these guys made me play at the four position knowing that I’m a guard. My ability to play different spots (positions) was always a strength of mine, but at the four spot, at that level, I had no chances. I ended up going back home and didn’t have anything for almost a year, but I’m a fighter, people who know me know that I never lost faith, knowing that God would provide an opportunity for me to bounce back and play.
I am currently playing for Bayer Leverkusen, a Legendary club in Germany in the Pro B division, and we are playing well this season so far. We are 10-1 and on the right path to go up a division at the end of the season. My role on the team other than score the ball and be the playmaker is to lead, bring my experience on the table, a very similar role that what I had in St John’s, so I can’t complain. I’m still working hard and still having big dreams in mind when It comes to basketball and with hard work, Faith and God’s will, I will be end up where I deserve to be one day.