There comes a point when wanting something isn’t enough, no matter how fervently you hope for it. There wasn’t a soul in New York with any kind of feel for the city’s basketball history who didn’t want Chris Mullin to find magic at St. John’s. It had everything you wanted for a fairy tale: an old hero, an old kingdom, a waiting throne.
All that was missing was the happy ending.
Four years later, we are still waiting for the happy ending.
Four years later, in what was supposed to be the culmination of this beautiful basketball ballad, the Johnnies are trapped in a mudslide and can’t figure a way out of it. This was supposed to be a nonstop flight toward a splendid destiny.
Instead, it is last place in the Big East.
This time it was an 89-78 loss at the Garden to Georgetown in front of 17,801 fans who were mostly clad in red and mostly departed muttering to themselves. The Johnnies played as they have too often lately: There were a couple of four-and-five minutes stretches where they were engaged, interested and prosperous.
And vast swatches where they seemed utterly disinterested in any of the fundamental things that define good basketball teams: defense, tone, pace, togetherness.
“We kind of went through the motions in the first half,” sophomore guard Mustapha Heron admitted, and while you can give Heron extra credit for honesty, you do have to ask: Why do they do this to themselves game after game? Against the tomato cans they flattened in November and December, all you need is 10 good minutes.
Against the varsity, against the Big East, you need 40.
“We have to regroup,” said Shamorie Ponds, who was his usually heroic self with 21 points even as he shot only 1-for-5 from 3. “As a team we aren’t as together as we were in the beginning. We have to get back to our winning ways.”
Can they? There remains a surfeit of talent in the rotation, and while that makes the home losses these past two weeks to DePaul and Georgetown hard to fathom, it also suggests they could figure it out again. This is the same team that humbled Marquette, the same team that led Villanova after 35 minutes on the road. That team is hidden in there somewhere.
It is on Mullin to lure it out of its cocoon, and soon. Can he do that? He has lived the first 3 ½ years of his coaching career on scholarship, receiving far more benefit of the doubt than any other man in this job ever would. That is inarguable. Most people believed Mullin would get it done here because they wanted to believe he would get it done here, because that’s the only good way for this story to end.
But he hasn’t gotten it done here. Not yet. He built this team. It started 12-0. It snuck into the top 25. It threw a scare into the defending champs. And ever since it has gotten caught in a ruinous sinkhole. Make no mistake: As you read this, the Johnnies have absolutely played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament. If the field was picked right now, they’d be in the NIT. Maybe.
They have serious work to do to get themselves back in, starting with a brutal three-game road trip through Creighton, Duke and Marquette. If the Johnnies are going to figure this out, it’s on the coach to bring it out of them. And there is a serious question mark attached to that:
Do you think he has that in him?
“What else would you rather do in life?” Mullin said when asked about the challenges befalling his team, and that’s exactly as you would expect a guy of his pedigree to respond. The old player still lives inside the coach, brash, brassy, confident. Can that translate?
There have always been whispers around the program about how engaged Mullin really is. These whispers become louder when you see an image like the one Fox broadcast Sunday, Mullin tying his shoes in a timeout as assistant Greg St. Jean ran the huddle. At best, that’s a terrible look. At worst, it’s an awful harbinger.
“I feel as a team we’ve all parted ways,” Ponds said Sunday, and for those who have watched, it is a pinpoint description of what’s happened. It’s on them to change the narrative around them. And on the coach to push them there.
Do you think he has that in him?
Source: Read Full Article