You just know, when somebody walks into a room, if he’s a competitor.
Chris Mullin comes into the room like that. When I first met Coach Mullin, I was in high school and he was recruiting me to St. John’s. Something funny happened when I stood up to shake his hand. He saw me stand up — he sized me up real quick — and the first thing he said was, “I thought you’d be shorter.”
I didn’t know if it was a compliment or not.
I almost said to him, Yo, I thought you’d be taller.
I think, right then, we recognized that we both had some Brooklyn in us.
People who come to Brooklyn, if they’re visiting and ain’t really from here, don’t get a chance to see what’s really going on, you know? How there’s the good and the bad side of Brooklyn.
Everybody knows Coach Mullin came up in Brooklyn and went to St. John’s, just like me. I’d heard about how he was playing street ball in every borough from a young age. I’d heard how tough he was. I could relate to that.
I’m from Bed-Stuy. I got a great family and I grew up playing ball here my whole life. My high school, Thomas Jefferson High, won the New York City title. But growing up here, I’ve seen some of craziest things. All the violence, the shootings, the sirens. It’s got my mom worried. She’s been hoping that someday we could move out. I grew up around the streets — I wasn’t really in the streets, but I seen it all. You really got no choice. I wake up grateful each day, thanking God. And I’ve been telling my mom these last couple of years that I’m trying my best to use the talents that God gave me to make a better situation for us.
Coach Mullin and I are from different generations, but we’re from the same area. So I think he understands a little bit about where I come from and why I compete the way I compete on the basketball court.
After that first time Coach came to recruit me, I think I already knew — I wanted to go play for St. John’s. Brooklyn dude? Hall of Famer? And I could stay in NYC? I was already sold, you know what I mean?
I still remember everything he said that first time we met. Coach kept it very direct, right from the jump. He was like, This is why we want you to come to St. John’s. You’re our No. 1 recruit. This is what we see in you. This is how we’ll make you better. That kind of thing.
It wasn’t even about what he said, though. It was more about the the way he said it. He was just very straightforward. He wasn’t, like, begging me to go there. He was just laying out the facts. He didn’t sugarcoat things. He said what his plans were. And then he went on his way. No extras.
Now that I’m a sophomore, I think about my first impression of him. It’s the same guy he was then that he is today. Except he’s tougher — now that I play for him.
You can hear it in his voice. He is very tough and aggressive when it comes to basketball. When we’re dogging it, when we’re not playing our hardest, when we’re turning the ball over, he’ll let us know. Coach is not afraid to just say whatever he needs to say. But at the same time, he’s got this very laid-back thing going on.
I don’t always do everything right on the court, so I appreciate that he tells it to me straight. I’m always down to learn how to get better at the details. We watch a lot of film this year — that’s been a major key from last year to this year. He’s trying to get me to improve my vocal leadership at the point guard position, and he’s also trying to get me to see how important pacing is for a floor general.
That’s why it works with me and Coach. I think he understands the way I play ball and the way I compete. So, it’s like that. There’s love and there’s trust. But he sure as hell ain’t afraid to challenge me, either.
If you think about it, what’s more Brooklyn than that?