And so the long sports desert is behind us and college basketball is back and with it so am I. Much to the delight of my many fans it goes without saying. I’ve been in many ways dreading this moment: once again this year I am tasking my drunk ass with writing 30 or so essays about the futility that is Saint John’s basketball. Looking ahead, that seems something of a chore. Over the last several years it has not been. Very quickly into Steve Lavin’s tenure at SJU I grew to loathe him and these essays served as a purgative: they got out hate. Although a lifelong SJU fan I have over the past several years been rooting for them to lose, because I wanted the repulsive Steve Lavin to fail, so that I could mock his incompetence. And Steve Lavin obliged me by being an inept bungler. So not only was I afforded the opportunity to ridicule the object of my detestation, but I did so gleefully, because I was delighted that Lavin’s floundering disappointed everyone else. He really was a godsend, at least in terms of my literary output. But now it’s different: I want Chris Mullin to succeed. And more than that: I believe he will, and so now I need him to, if for no other reason than to prove myself right. But the rub is: if he does succeed, I’ll have nothing to write about. Cruel fate. Because it’s not like I’m going to sit around writing happy little essays about how great “we’re” doing, or whatever. On the bright side I can usually find something to be miserable about, so there’s that … Re Mullin, I‘ve been surprised to hear many long-time Saint John’s fans doubting his ability to succeed as head coach. I can perhaps understand the skepticism of young fans who never saw him play or maybe even don’t know who he is, but many of the doubters are middle-aged men who saw what Mullin did on the court and afterwards. To me it’s like doubting whether Mozart might be a successful seventh grade music teacher because he doesn’t know who Katy Perry is. Personally I’ve no doubt that Mullin will be successful at SJU: he’s never failed at basketball before and in fact has achieved a level of success over a 40-year period equaled by only a select few. And of all the roles he’s attempted coaching at the college level is probably the easiest: if you don’t believe that, explain the successes of obvious lunkheads like Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight … About the exhibition games the less said the better. It looked to me like Mullin just rolled out the balls the first game and didn’t really care what happened. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it: he has 10 new players, 6 of whom are freshman and perhaps the best of those sat. In the three days between STAC and Sonoma SJU went from looking like a bad D3 team to one that could compete for a D2 national championship. After Wagner SJU looks like they could contend for midpack in the NEC. That sort of improvement is all coaching baby! In point of fact Mullin looks comfortable on the sidelines, engaged with his players and has not in three games made the sort of egregious strategic blunder that the former coach used to make twice before the first TV time out … About the Wagner game there’s not a lot to take away. Saint John’s beat a crappy team of the sort they always beat in the preseason – but for a couple of banked in threes it would have been a laugher. Had they lost there might have been something to say, but they didn’t, so there isn’t. Either way this is going to be a long brutal season. But wait till next year bums. Or perhaps the year after that. It was nice though to see Mullin get the first one under his belt.
PLAYERS: As the ever perceptive Tarik Turner noted during the first half of Saint John’s first exhibition game “it’s still early in the season,” so I’ve as of yet been unable to form any firm opinions about the various newcomers – unlike many knowledgeable fans I actually have to see them play before that happens. But I do have some early impressions, viz … Frederico Mussini looks to be the great white hope the Red & White Club has been waiting for lo these many years. It’s unfortunate that he has to play the point this year, because he seems like a two guard to me. Initially he looks to be a step slow but I expect he’ll adjust to the speed of the college game. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to want to cover anybody and that doesn’t have anything to do with footspeed. Hopefully he’ll work on his free throw shooting, because he looks to be an adventure at the line … Malik Ellison has the tools and pedigree to be a good 4-year player but in a perfect world he’d sit on the bench for a year. This being Saint John’s, we’re about as far from a perfect world as can be … Steve Lavin described Christian Jones as having the ”best post-up game of any freshman I’ve ever coached.” Leaving aside that Steve Lavin is an idiot, Jones has so far looked to have turned into the player Lavin said he already was three years ago. He’s always had the tools – good hands, good feet, good body – it was his mind that wasn’t right. Maybe the lightbulb has come on, as it sometimes does, as it did for Pointer last year. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Jones would make anyone forget Jakarr Sampson – as did one delusional fan last year – but his play thus far has been a pleasant surprise … Yankuba Sima looks thus far like a poor man’s Chris Obekpa, minus the psychotic smile, stupid shorts, attention seeking behavior, drug abuse problem, anger management issues, and poor free throw shooting. In fact I predict boldly that by February we’ll all be saying Chris Whobekpa? … With Phil Greene finally having graduated Amar Albavivovich – who makes Tomas Jasilionus look like Dirk Nowitski – has been anointed my whipping boy until he too gets the hell out. Lavin bringing AA back from his European “recruiting” trip of several years ago is like when I’m coming back from out of town and stop at the last Thruway rest stop before my exit and buy the old lady an I LOVE NEW YORK snow globe to show that I was thinking about her the whole time …. For the most part I can’t yet tell Mvouika, Williams and Johnson apart, except one of them wears a dopey headband. Obviously it was a good idea on Mullin’s part to bring in a bunch of upperclassmen, I’m just not sure it was a good idea to bring in these three. Just kidding. They seem to be all shaking off the cobwebs and even if they don’t they’re only here for a year or two anyway. Of the three Mvouika has impressed me the most thus far, but Williams looks to have the most potential … Felix Balamou – who Steve Lavin activated for a game during his red shirt year costing him a year of eligibility – was declared ineligible by the NCAA shortly before game time. According to @NYPost_Brazille Balamou’s eligibility issue was leaked to the NCAA by Steve Lavin or one of his flunkies. If this is true it’s ironic: it would mean that the thing least damaged during Steve Lavin’s tenure at Saint John’s was Steve Lavin’s prostate … Absent Marcus Lovett walk-on Elijah Holifield suddenly becomes something of a big deal. Well, not quite all of a sudden. Saint John’s has a long recent history of walk-ons becoming integral team members – e.g. Andre Stanley, Phil Missere, and most of Steve Lavin’s bench. If Holifield is half the player Andre Stanley was that would be a good thing
NOTES: A bunch of noteworthy things happened since last we spoke, but none more note or worthy than this:
I have been for the past several years posting the most egregious and slanderous bile about Steve Lavin that arose in the fever swamp of my inner dialogue – which inner dialogue frankly makes Pink Flamingos look like It’s a Wonderful Life. I have in fact written nicer things about Stalin. (I like his mustache, sue me.) During all that time, I heard nothing. And then suddenly over the summer: BLOCKED. So what was it that caused it, finally? A fairly innocuous response to a tweet of Lavin’s describing the moribund Phil Greene as a “basketball ambassador” or some such twaddle. And all I said was something like “You’re no longer the SJ coach. Get out and don’t let the door hit you,” to which I might have appended the hashtag #SteveLavinIsWorstCoachEver. Doesn’t seem like much considering how much abuse I’ve slagged on him over the years. Evidently though that was the last straw. I don’t flatter myself that Lavin regularly read my little blog, although I know some staffers did: e.g. Ron Linfonte blocked me like three years ago. I mean Ron Linfonte, good grief … Speaking of Lavin, he showed up doing commentary at half time on Fox Sports One. I almost didn’t recognize him because he was wearing a shirt and tie, his hair was no longer died jet back and caked with mousse, and he wasn’t wearing the Oompa Loompa pancake orange clown make up he sported when last we saw him on the SJU sidelines. When he opened his mouth though and the same old vapid bullshit came out, I knew it was him right off … Speaking of the primordial slime, does the air smell a little sweeter this year? Are sunsets a little more poignant? One reason might be that Jim Burr is no longer a college basketball referee. Well, that’s not exactly true. A truer statement would be that although Burr stopped refereeing games about 12 years ago he will no longer be getting paid for it, having announced his long overdue retirement over the summer. The Big East, college basketball, organized sports, and life in these United States will be better for his absence … Friday’s SJU opponent Wagner College is in Staten Island, which for some reason is still a borough of New York City. Notable Wagner alumni include most valuable poster We Are SJU, political analyst and legendary drunk Bob Beckel, three Miss New Jerseys (2002, 2007, 2008, weird right?) and Rich Kotite, to whom Tom Pecora should be eternally grateful lest he be forever remembered as the worst coach in New York City sports history. Little remembered fact: portentous gasbag Norman “Boomer” Esiason was the Jets QB in Kotite’s first year, 1995, when the Jets only lost 80 percent of their games. The next year the Jets – behind Neil O’Donnell and later Frank “Third” Reich – won only one game, that versus Arizona. The starting QB for Arizona that year? If you guessed Boomer Esiason, you win. Unlike Pecora. Remember that the next time you’re wasting time listening to Boomer pontificate about, well, anything … Finally, a word about Marcus Lovett, recently declared ineligible by the NCAA. Now, saying that the NCAA is a little bit corrupt is like saying that the Emperor Caligula was a little bit of a scallywag. It is in fact the worst and most corrupt organization since the Knights Templar. Consider: in the entire fetid morass of college athletics there are currently only 15 college sports programs on NCAA probation. They include the Henderson State University (d2) women’s basketball program, the Clark Atlanta University (d2) women’s tennis program, the SUNY Potsdam (d3) women’s hockey program and the Southern Miss (d1) men’s tennis program. Meanwhile basketball players at North Carolina haven’t opened a book since 2002, players at U Kentucky have a private chef, and Rick Pitino is operating a brothel. If the NCAA was serious about policing college athletics Marcus Lovett and Felix Balamou would have suited up for SJU Friday evening and Scott Drew would have been pelted with rotten fruit at halftime. But the only thing the NCAA cares about is how much money it can shove in its pockets. So Marcus Lovett will spend this season on the sidelines, in a suit and tie. No doubt that will teach him the lesson he failed to learn in high school.