As St. John’s continues to search for its next coach, the clock is ticking.
A barren roster in need of reinforcements awaits Chris Mullin’s replacement, as the late signing period begins Thursday, and the live recruiting period inches closer as well. Already, the Johnnies haven’t had anyone on the recruiting trail for a week, since Mullin stepped down last Monday night, and they have lost several key pieces to the team.
But that doesn’t mean first-year athletic director Mike Cragg will rush into any decision.
“Most important is we get the right fit for the long term,” he told The Post, and added that the search “has been productive” and has drawn a “high level of interest.”
Cragg missed on his top target when Bobby Hurley opted to stay at Arizona State after agreeing to a five-year extension, leaving St. John’s as the only high-major job opening now that Cincinnati hired Northern Kentucky’s John Brannen on Sunday.
Iona College’s Tim Cluess was viewed by some as the favorite late last week, though those reports were premature.
However, the former St. John’s player from Long Island remains in the mix, sources said, and has guided the Gaels to six NCAA Tournament bids in nine years. Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser, who led the Chicago school to the Final Four in 2018, was on campus Monday. Moser was scheduled to have dinner with St. John’s higher-ups at night, and has been talking to the school in recent days, according to sources. He was involved with the UNLV job that went to T.J. Otzelberger.
Mullin’s top assistant, Greg St. Jean, met with Cragg to talk about the job last week, and Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer, who knows Cragg from their days together in Durham, has also been in consideration.
Whoever does land the job will have a lot of work to do.
St. John’s has just seven scholarship players on its roster for next year at the moment, after junior-college recruits Cam Mack and Valdir Manuel decommitted amid the coaching change. Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon declared for the NBA draft with the intent to sign with an agent and not return to school. LJ Figueroa, arguably the team’s most consistent player, entered the transfer portal — his adviser, Alex Arias, told The Post he was still considering returning to St. John’s — and has already heard from the likes of Florida, Florida State, Miami, UConn and Kansas, among others. A source close to Figueroa said the schools recruiting him are pushing for a visit this weekend. The program’s remaining players, meanwhile, are waiting to see whom the school hires.
“There’s work to be done and every day that goes by, you’re losing ground in regards to recruiting,” one veteran Division I assistant coach said. “For every day that you drag this on, you’re losing time with potential graduate guys, home visits, visits to your campus from recruits.”
One local AAU coach, familiar with several players on the team, believes if this really drags out, St. John’s could lose many more players. The program needs the stability of a new coach, not a clandestine search that has kept a lot of people in the dark.
“People are anxious to see what direction they are going to go in,” the coach said. “Mike Cragg is being paid to do this job right now and we’ll see what kind of job he does.”
Cragg is walking a fine line. He has to get the hire right, but he can’t wait too long, either. It’s also his first coaching search.
“The risk was more in not securing a commitment from a high-level coach prior to Mullin leaving,” local recruiting guru Andrew Slater said. “Now, the biggest risk is making a mistake in his successor.”