Obituaries always come too late for their subject to enjoy, and that could be said of the college basketball eulogy given Chris Mullin after his final game at St. John’s University. Rival Georgetown buried Mullin in the 1985 NCAA tournament semifinal before the Hoyas unconditionally praised him.
Not that Mullin, a legitimate hoops luminary, was ever the least bit unappreciated for his basketball acumen and craft throughout his four St. John’s seasons and 13 subsequent years in the NBA. But the way Georgetown coach John Thompson—and specifically Georgetown defender David Wingate—demonstrated their ultimate respect was with a singular assault on Mullin’s considerable talents.
That March 30 night in Lexington, Ky., exactly 30 years before Mullin was hired this week as St. John’s new head coach, Thompson essentially ordered Wingate to pay no mind to anything or anyone in the building except Mullin. While the other four Hoyas played a help-each-other zone defense, Wingate played Mullin. And the direct result, besides wearing out both Mullin and Wingate, was a 77-59 Georgetown victory.
Mullin had averaged 19.8 points that season, and he made half his shots that night. But Wingate allowed him only eight attempts, and thus a measly eight points.
“Never looking at the ball,” Wingate said in his team’s victorious lockerroom, “created a little problem for me. But when you’re covering Chris Mullin, you can’t take your eyes off Chris to look for the ball or Chris will be gone. He’ll be open with the ball.”
From the very outset, Wingate chased Mullin. He chased himself outside. He chased him down low. He chased him through screens and a few walls. He seemed to chase him down the interstate, off the cloveleafs, down dirt roads and back alleys.
Mullin didn’t touch the ball for the first 3 ½ minutes while Georgetown built an immediate eight-point lead. With six minutes left in the half, Mullin’s basket tied the game, whereupon Wingate wouldn’t let him near the ball again for almost nine minutes while Georgetown went ahead by 14.
“There are lots of kids who can shoot like Chris,” Thompson said after the game. “But what makes him great is his ability to get open, and when he’s open, it’s not just his shooting that hurts you. It’s his passing, too. David is very quick, but Chris is very shrewd.”
That night in Kentucky, Quick put Shrewd in jail and threw away the key. But it was just one game, and there may be no larger compliment than the post-game fear of Mullin that Georgetown acknowledged.
Now, shrewd is clearly a Mullin quality St. John’s officials are counting on, given that Mullin never has coached on any level, and there is widespread agreement that the old star’s cleverness will serve him well in this new role. What he really will need, though, is a player like the one who demanded every second of Georgetown’s attention 30 years ago.