By Joseph Staszewski
Chris Mullin sat in the middle of Carnesecca Arena during his first day on the job as St. John’s men’s basketball coach and said the Red Storm would dominate local recruiting. Landing his first player from New York City—Thomas Jefferson guard Shamorie Ponds—gave us our first insight into how he plans to do that.
Most importantly, Mullin is the perfect person to sell young players on the idea of turning down potentially greener pastures elsewhere in order to play close to home. That’s what he did—and look how it turned out for him. Mullin stuck with his hometown school. He told a host of others “no,” including Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and it ended up being the best decision of his life. He will tell kids that he can make it the same for them.
“We related a lot because he stayed home and played for St. John’s,” Ponds said.
Playing at St. John’s means you get to compete at Madison Square Garden, something Mullin also did. He talks about it not just as the World’s Most Famous Arena and the Broadway of college hoops, but also as a tool to get yourself to the pros. Becoming the darlings of the Garden, like he and St. John’s team did, means instant exposure on TV, websites and magazines. People will know your name in a big way.
“He told me there is no arena like Madison Square Garden,” Ponds said. “If you put on a show in Madison Square Garden you can write your own ticket.”
Mullin can then push how he can help players punch that ticket, by flashing his Hall of Fame credentials on the court. He can talk about putting a player in a pro-style offense and helping him develop his game. His experience as an NBA executive is another big plus, because it comes with a contact list full of people he can make a call to for a kid when it is time.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Ponds said. “I know he’s got a lot of connections. I know he will get me to where I want to go. I just have to continue to put the work in.”
Lastly, Mullin can dangle that promise of St. John’s building something special. You don’t want to be the kid that goes away and missed out, while some other local kid becomes the face of the Red Storm’s rise back to national prominence.
“He likes what they are selling,” Jefferson coach Lawrence “Bud” Pollard said. “He liked the direction of the program. He feels they are taking the program to another level and he wants to be a part of that.”
The pitch and Mullin’s relaxed personality helped him quickly form a strong bond with Ponds. Pollard said Ponds lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw Mullin across from him on the first day of classes at Jefferson.
“There was something about coach Mullin that [Ponds] just had that glow,” Pollard said.
It is a reaction Mullin hopes to replicate all over the country, but especially in the tri-state area and five boroughs. Landing Ponds shows he has the plan, the tools and the ability to make it happen.