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Nate Olson

St. John’s makes home run hire with Anderson, ties or not to NY

When news broke about Mike Anderson finalizing a deal with St. John’s Thursday night, it didn’t take long for the national media to weigh in.

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When news broke about Mike Anderson finalizing a deal with St. John’s Thursday night, it didn’t take long for the national media to weigh in.

At least two writers condemned St. John’s for hiring a coach with no ties to the area. Since when did that become important?

Off the top of my head, I rattled off several coaches who are coaching at schools that didn’t have a connection to the area. Some of the great all-time coaches didn’t have connections to their programs when they were hired.

But, somewhere along the line, that became somewhat important. Tell that to Hunter Yurachek who just hired Eric Musselman at Arkansas. And don’t tell me he has a connection to the Natural State because he was an assistant at LSU for a year and his wife has family from Magnolia.

Chris Mullin is from New York City and starred at St. John’s and look how that turned out. But some in the national media failed to point that out. St. John’s has just been down this road. Georgetown is realizing the same thing with former Hoyas star Patrick Ewing.

And at least one national website author didn’t point out a lot of things regarding Anderson’s hiring. Instead, he was content to criticize the school for A) Hiring a coach who had been fired and B) Hiring a coach who has roots in the South and not the northeast.
Allow me to fill in the blanks.

First, with Anderson it is very important to note that he was very successful at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri. Missouri, a Power 5 program he guided to the Elite 8. How can that not be included in a story regarding his hiring?

I know he was mediocre at Arkansas, and I will really never know why, but his entire body of work is pretty good. This stat drove me crazy while he was at Arkansas, but he has never had a losing season in his time as a college coach. Not the way to keep a job you are struggling in but important to point out when taking a job at a struggling mid-major program.

And while I bring up St. John’s let’s talk about the Red Storm. This is not Lou Carnasecca’s St. John’s. This isn’t even Mike Jarvis’ St. Johns. A moppy-headed Mullin isn’t walking through that door and neither is Walter Berry, nor is Malik Sealy or Felipe Lopez.

St. John’s isn’t a top-tier program and the Big East (I’ll get to this later) is not the Big East you tuned into to see Syracuse battle Georgetown on CBS on Saturday afternoons in the 1980s.

So, since St. John’s isn’t relevant why would the national media expect them to secure the services of a big-time coach? Why would Bobby Hurley leave Pac-12 Arizona State to coach St. John’s? Because he grew up in New Jersey? Please. If St. John’s coveted him, there was a probably a reason. His agent could have shown interest to get him a raise in Tempe. Just like Kelvin Sampson did with Arkansas.

As far as these other guys that national pundits think were better fits Anderson – Loyola’s Porter Moser, Iona’s Tim Cluess and UMBC Coach Ryan Odom, tell me what they have on Anderson other than ties?

Have they won in a Power 5 league? How many losing seasons do they have? Moser was fired at Illinois State and failed to get Loyola to the NCAA Tournament, but you won’t read that in the national media storyline.

The bottom line is, St. John’s is lucky to have a coach with Anderson’s experience. They have only hired one coach who was a former Power 5 coach — Steve Lavin, who coached at UCLA.

Carnasecca became a Hall of Fame coach, but he did it there. Jarvis came from Atlantic 10 member George Washington and twice St. John’s has hired former Manhattan coaches (Brian Mahoney and Fran Fraschilla).

Then there’s the Big East — a shell of its former self like I mentioned above.

Can you name any of the head coaches in the league other than Villanova’s Jay Wright, Ewing and maybe former Duke star Steve Wojcechowski at Marquette. Greg McDermott at Creighton. Kevin Willard at Seton Hall. Dave Leitao at DePaul. We saw how Anderson ran circles around Providence coach Ed Cooley in the opening round of the NIT.

Compare the Big East programs and coaches to the SEC, and it isn’t even close. John Calipari at Kentucky, Rick Barnes at Tennessee, Bruce Pearl at Auburn, Ben Howland at Mississippi State and Tom Crean at Georgia.

Anderson has had to match wits with some of the game’s best. Going into Omaha, Neb., to face McDermott is a walk in the park compared to Coach Cal at Lexington or Barnes at Knoxville.

This is a step up for St. John’s and a step down for Anderson.

The league is filled with so-so coaches at programs that haven’t been relevant in decades. It’s a perfect place for Anderson to get his mojo back and rev his engine like he did at Mizzou and UAB.

The two keys for Anderson? 1) Reload with a new staff or at least one assistant who can pull in dynamic athletes, possibly from the back yard of New York but not necessarily. 2) Get back to playing a frenetic pace with lockdown, pressure defense. That formula worked well at Anderson’s two previous stops but was his downfall in Fayetteville.

If he can pull of those two feats, he will bring St. John’s back to prominence and contend with Villanova for a conference title.

St. John’s may have not conducted this search flawlessly being spurned by the likes of Hurley, Moser and possibly Odom. The national media wants to paint the picture that Anderson was the fifth or sixth choice while in actuality he may have been the one that showed interest after the process had begun.

Who knows, but Anderson is a good hire regardless. St. John’s has stuck with a formula of hiring New York City guys with mixed results. Now, they have hired the best available coach with a solid overall track record, and that should pay big dividends.

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