Chris Mullin is looking forward to the start of his second season at the helm of the St. John's Red Storm, which gets underway at Carnesecca Arena on November 11 against Bethune-Cookman.
At St. John's Media Day on Thursday, Mullin spoke of the progress his team has made over the past year, "The talent level has improved tremendously. Our focus has been on practice, daily improvement and working together. The biggest advantage has been the guys who returned [know what we’re looking to do within our system]. That experience is invaluable.
“One of the biggest advantages we will have this year is being able to play multiple lineups. We practice different lineups to see who functions well together and we’ve liked a lot of different combinations. We might want to force another team to play big or small and we have the ability to do that now.”
The Red Storm went just 8-24 in Mullin's first year as head coach. They look to make significant improvement on that after a productive offseason in which they added freshman guard Shamorie Ponds and junior guard/forward Bashir Ahmed.
Ponds was chosen by the Big East Conference coaches as the Preseason Rookie of the Year.
Ponds is a consensus Top-50 recruit, rated as high as number 32 in the Class of 2016. He was a 2,000-point scorer at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, and he averaged 29 points, eight rebounds, and six assists as a senior.
Mullin said of Ponds, “Physically, [Shamorie] is probably like most kids coming out of high school. He’s doing a good job working in the weight room and that will just be a natural process. I like the way he plays. He has great instincts on the court and has a natural feel for the game, both offensively and defensively.”
Ponds said of his relationship with the team, “The coaches made me feel welcome. [When I] came in here, it felt like a family environment and I got used to that. I really gelled with my teammates and we just had a bond.”
The four-star prospect was named to the 2016 Jordan Brand All-American Team. He competed in the 2015 Under Armour Elite 24 game.
Ponds was invited to the USA Men's Basketball U-18 National Team Training Camp.
Sophomore guard Federico Mussini said of Ponds, “I really like his game. You can tell he’s really smart. He’s always ready to steal the ball and get easy points. He’s a great shooter and can do a lot of different things.”
Ahmed is a transfer from from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. The 2016 Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year, Ahmed is a two-time NJCAA All-America honoree. He was a Division I First Team All-American in 2015-16, averaging 20.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.
“Bashir is more of an old school player," Mullin said of Ahmed. "He’s a very aggressive offensive player who likes to attack the rim. He has a lot of different skills we can use, he’s working hard to expand his game and he’s mature physically.”
In 2014-15, Ahmed was selected Freshman of the Year for the Jayhawk Conference and a NJCAA All American Honorable Mention. He averaged 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds as a freshman.
One other freshman that could be a surprise is Richard Freudenberg, a 6-9 forward from Germany.
“He’s a really good shooter," Mullin said of Freudenberg. "He’s going to be able to space the floor for us. As the season goes on, you will see his game expand. He can take it to the basket and he can rebound and push it. I think you’ll see natural progression from him.”
Mullin likes the makeup of his team and said of the quality of the group, “We have a bunch of gym rats that love the game. It’s fun being around guys who just had a two hour practice and after they’re just shooting and hanging around the gym.”