When Chris Mullin was named head coach at St. John’s in the spring there was a great deal of excitement and with good reason. The program’s greatest player was returning, and while Mullin would be embarking on his first adventure as a head coach at any level the hope was that with a talented coaching staff he’d be able to ensure that the Red Storm would be a consistent NCAA tournament team.
But working with a roster that needed a lot of work upon the arrival of he and his staff, this process won’t be an overnight one for Mullin. And if anyone needed a reminder of this, they received it Wednesday night at Carnessecca Arena. Playing their first exhibition against outside competition, the Red Storm fell to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas by the final score of 90-58.
What could go wrong did go wrong for the home team, beginning with the absence of two freshmen expected to be key contributors this season. Point guard Marcus LoVett Jr. and power forward Kassoum Yakwe were both sidelined for the exhibition, as they’ve yet to be cleared for competition (both can practice) by the NCAA. But even if those two were available to Mullin, it’s unlikely that their presence would have changed the outcome of Wednesday’s exhibition.
As a team the Red Storm shot 37 percent from the field and committed a staggering 28 turnovers on the night, struggling with fundamentals (boxing out, ball control, finding quality shots, you name it) and chemistry on both ends of the floor. Given how many newcomers are in this group, the cohesion issues shouldn’t be seen as a major surprise. But there were no excuses coming from the head coach following the loss, with Mullin taking responsibility for what occurred on the Carnessecca Arena floor.
But to get beat as they did by St. Thomas Aquinas, which to be fair returns five of its top seven scorers from last season and looked as if they expected to win, is certainly an eye-opener for the Red Storm.
The good news for St. John’s is that the game won’t count against their official record, and they’ve got plenty of “teachable moments” to use as they move towards the start of the regular season. St. John’s has one more exhibition (November 7 against Sonoma State) before they open up the regular season against Wagner November 13.
First-year St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin landed an important recruit Sunday afternoon, as NBCSports.com confirmed that four-star power forward Kassoum Yakwe picked the Big East program over Oregon. News of Yakwe’s commitment was first reported by Andrew Slater of 247Sports.com.
Yakwe, like four-star shooting guard Shamorie Ponds, was viewed as an important prospect for St. John’s for a variety of reasons. One, there’s the 6-foot-8 forward’s ability as a defender and rebounder that can give the Red Storm a much-needed boost in the post. Secondly, the Mali native played his high school basketball locally (Our Savior New American) and keeping local players home was an issue for the prior regime.
It should be noted, however, that Yakwe credited former St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin for getting the ball rolling on his recruitment three years ago.
“Coach (Steve) Lav(in) did a great job of recruiting me for three years. He deserves credit for helping me to learn about the school. My friend and teammate Felix Balamou has been great about helping me know what it’s like at St. John’s. I built a really good relationship with the coaching staff since April. Matt (Abdelmassih) has been the lead recruiter and he’s been recruiting me since Iowa State. Now, when he came back to New York, Matt’s been recruiting me to St. John’s. He’s one of the main reasons why I chose St. John’s, but I also liked the facilities and I wanted to stay local. Those are the main reasons,” added Kassoum Yakwe.
Yakwe, who was a member of the Class of 2016, will reclassify into 2015 and if cleared (Kansas’ Cheick Diallo, who also attended OSNA, has yet to be cleared himself) will be a key player for St. John’s this season. St. John’s lone returnees in the front court, Christian Jones and Amar Alibegovic, both averaged fewer than ten minutes per game last season. They’ll be joined by newcomers Yakwe, Darien Williams and Yankuba Sima (Tennessee transfer Tariq Owens will have to sit out the 2015-16 campaign).
Provided he’s cleared to play there’s room for Yakwe to make an impact defensively as a freshman for the Red Storm, and they’ll need him to do so if they’re to be formidable in Mullin’s first season at the helm. Now with Yakwe on board, the staff can continue its work to keep Ponds (who attends Jefferson HS in Brooklyn) in the city as well.