Mullin, In His Third Season Leading St. John’s, Focused On Improvement

(Chris Mullin – Photo by Jason Schott)

St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin is entering his third season at the helm, and at media day at Carnesecca Arena on Thursday, he said he is excited about his team.

Mullin said of preparing for the season, “Well the focus is on improvement, defensively. Individually, making sure that everyone is getting back to play defense to get an individual challenge on everyone and rebounding the basketball. If we do that defensively, we’ve done really well with our team schemes as we begin to pick things up, and get a little better individually.

“Offensively it’s really simple, be unselfish. We have to be able to score the basketball. When you have a brush of talent throughout, it’s really important that we play together. Those are really the two things that we stress, and we are doing a good job of it.”

Chris Mullin talks to his team during practice on Thursday. Photo by Jason Schott.

St. John’s went 14-19 overall and 7-11 in conference play, with a Big East Tournament win over Georgetown, last season, Mullin’s second year coaching his alma mater. This was a major improvement of the 2015-16 season, when they won just one conference game with an overall record of 8-24.

Mullin said of the process going into his third season, “I’m not quite sure I would have diagrammed the first two years the way they went, but that’s not a bad thing either. To go through those things and endure, I think there’s a lot to be said about going through adversity and handling it the right way. From that standpoint, we’ve put ourselves in another position to take a positive step. This step is much harder though.”

The Red Storm will be led by Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett, who had great years as freshman, and the transfers Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon.

Ponds, a 6-1 guard, was a Big East All-Freshman team selection, and led the team and was fifth in the Big East with 17.4 points per game. He started all 33 games, and scored double figures in 30 of them, including 11 performances of 20 points or more. Ponds ranked second on the team and 11th in the Big East with 3.1 assists per game.  He led the league and was 22nd in the nation with 2.1 steals per game, and finished fifth in the Big East with an 82.3 percent free throw shooting mark.

Ponds said of becoming more of a catch-and-shoot player, “We [Ponds and Marcus LoVett] play really well off of each other because most of my shots come from him and most of his shots come from me, so we just have a chemistry…we know each other on the court whether we have the ball or not.”

Mullin said of the expectations for Ponds, “Well he had a historical season last year, scoring the most points ever by a [St. John’s] freshman. When you look at the history of the program, that’s pretty significant, but I think he’s stronger, quicker, has a better understanding of what it takes, and I think he’s going to have a great season.”

LoVett was a Big East All-Freshman Team Selection, as he was the second leading scorer on the team and ninth leading scorer in the conference with 15.9 points per game. He started 25 of the 30 games he played, and scored double-figures 26 times, including nine performances of 20 or more points per game, and twice scored 30 or more.. He was the team’s assist leader and fourth overall in the Big East with 3.8 per game. LoVett was sixth in the Big East with an 80.3 percent free throw percentage.

LoVett said of his individual growth from freshman season:
“Just being a leader for the team, and helping lead the team to where we want to get to. Just being a facilitator and finding the open gaps to create and find teammates…that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing during practice every day.”

Mullin said of the skills of Ponds and LoVett entering their sophomore seasons, “There’s no substitute for experience. They both had great seasons last year and had a lot of minutes on the floor, so this year I’ve asked them to do a little bit more. Help us on the boards…that portion of the game. Catch-and-shoot plays are the basis of the college basketball offense so we’ve continued to practice it. Marcus and Shamorie are really great with the ball, but they are also great without the ball. So just training them to do that because they haven’t done much of it, so it will be a good balance to our attack to not overload one area, and getting different guys involved in the offense.”

LoVett said of his relationship with Ponds, “We are always talking to each other after practices, eating together, texting each other, and stuff like that is always important. That kind of stuff is going to make our relationship better both on and off the court, and that’s better for the team going forward. We just have to keep building off what we have.”

Marvin Clark II, a 6-7 red-shirt junior forward, played in 69 games in his first two collegiate seasons at Michigan State. He set a Spartan freshman record by playing all 39 games in a Final Four run in 2014-15. Clark II was rated a top-40 prospect by national recruiting services for his position in the class of 2014. He averaged 4.5 points and 2.2 rebounds as a freshman, and in 2015-16, he appeared in 30 games and averaged 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds.

Clark II said of the challenges of transitioning to St. John’s, “I think the challenge for me is a physical one, if you can believe that. My freshman year I was sixth/seventh man and sophomore year I was seventh/eighth man, so coming here with my role expanding, I will be demanded to play more minutes so I think it’s a matter of trying to get into the best shape that I’ve ever been in to allow myself to demand more, which is exactly what I tried to do this summer. I think that’s the biggest thing and the biggest transition…accepting that role and being able to play comfortably.”

Justin Simon is a red shirt 6-5 sophomore guard who transferred to St. John’s from Arizona. He was a consensus top-40 prospect by national recruiting services for his position in the class of 2015. Simon was a First-Team All-NEPSAC AAA selection as a senior at Brewster Academy, averaging 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. He helped lead Brewster to the 2015 National Prep Championship. He made 24 appearances as a freshman at Arizona and played in 13 Pac-12 Games.

Simon said of making the move to the Big East, “I mean there were definitely challenges. However, I think taking my transfer year was really helpful to better understand the game. I was able to get mentally stronger and physically stronger. I’ve matured a little bit and was able to get my confidence up playing with Coach Mullin and my teammates, so I’m very excited for this season.”

Mullin said of Clark II and Simon, “I feel like they will each have a tremendous impact, but I guess we will have to wait and see. Both Marvin and Justin come from tremendous basketball programs and two great coaches, and having them here for a year with individual training, as well as with our training staff, helps…it really helps us. If you just look at them physically, you can see that they are two guys who we did not physically have on our roster last season, just from a physical stature. Add the fact that they have college experience and maturity will be a huge plus for us.”

Ponds said of Simon and Clark II, “I believe Justin is going to have a huge impact. He’s a long guard who can defend well against some of the best offensive players, and a facilitator. He can get the ball to the open guy. He’s such a big guard, and is going to have a big impact. Marvin is great because he can guard the one through five and he can shoot. I believe the impact is going to be just what we need.”

Photo by Jason Schott.

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