The feel-good portion of the Chris Mullin Welcome Home Program ended a long time ago. The benefits of the doubt have all been exhausted. For the first time in years, the St. John’s basketball team will not be graded on a curve, or viewed exclusively through a fuzzy, hazy prism. It will be judged, exclusively, on victories. Imagine that.
Which is as it should be, of course.
Which is why it was good to see the Red Storm look so aggressive, so loose, so free as they ran roughshod over Loyola-Maryland at Carnesecca Arena Wednesday night, 76-55. Yes, the opponent was a lower-end Patriot League team. Yes, we will only really start to understand who these Johnnies are once league play starts. Still …
“I’ll be honest,” Mullin said. “I really wanted to see what these guys would look like playing together.”
So did the legion of New York college basketball fans who have stood patiently by and waited for this program to regenerate. St. John’s has been too big a part of New York’s basketball fabric for too long to have lain in state this long. As awful as it is to see the Knicks grind their part of the city’s basketball legacy to dust across the last two decades, it’s been just as depressing seeing what the Johnnies have done to their own lofty perch.
Think about this:
As recently as 2002, St. John’s was selected for the NCAA Tournament for the 24th time in the previous 35 years — and in most of those years, the NCAA was a 24-, 32-, 40- or 48-game invitational that was a lot harder to qualify for than it is now. And in some of those years, the NIT was still considered an ample March option, especially for the de facto home college team in New York.