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March 19, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by student-athletes from St. John's, Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron, Shamorie Ponds and Justin Simon. Questions?
Q. Shamorie, this is what you've been waiting for. What have these past couple of days been like and what's today like, when you're actually here?
SHAMORIE PONDS: It's definitely a blessing to be here. It's something I dreamed of. I'm just glad to share here with my brothers, and definitely try to go far in the tournament.
Q. As a kid who grew up in New York, what does it mean to be part of a St. John's team back in the NCAA? When you were a kid in high school, did you follow St. John's at all in terms of seeing what their progress was before you got here?
SHAMORIE PONDS: My freshman year, I wasn't really focused on like none of that. But, I mean, I had to because this is where I'm at now. It just feels so unreal.
Q. How rewarding is this for you as a senior to be going to the NCAA Tournament?
MARVIN CLARK II: It's rewarding. I'm thankful that my senior season isn't over and my career isn't over, and I've been able to be with these guys up here and be able to accomplish a feat of bringing St. John's back to the NCAA Tournament.
Q. How much are you guys trying to salvage this opportunity knowing that you're the last team in the field?
MARVIN CLARK II: Even though we're the last team, we're in. So we don't want to just be here and be happy to be where we're at right now. We are really focused and locked in on making a run. And we feel we have the talent to make a run.
Q. Marvin and Mustapha, you've both played in the tournament, Mustapha more recently. How do you think that experience will help?
MARVIN CLARK II: I think that experience helps us a ton being, this being my third time being in the tournament throughout my career. Every game, it's a whole new season, but every game it's your last game. And you really should be overcome with energy. It should never be a point where you're tired or focused or worried about being tired.
I think having Justin Simon and Mustapha, two guys that have been in and played this environment, I think it's going to make a big difference.
MUSTAPHA HERON: The way I look at it is at the end of the day it's basketball. Being here, having the experience of coming here is good and all, but the way I look at it is put the ball in the rim. It's been the same since we was little. Just go out and have fun, enjoy the moment, put it in the rim.
Q. Mustapha, can you describe -- because I know you took a different route here -- but what St. John's meant to you when you were growing up? What sort of impact did that have on you? How much did you know about St. John's?
MUSTAPHA HERON: I was a Kentucky fan growing up. I was Kentucky and then UConn. I didn't know too much about St. John's growing up. Does that answer your question? (Laughter).
Q. More than you know. What made you, ultimately made you a St. John's fan?
MUSTAPHA HERON: When I was little I wasn't a St. John's fan. I'm from Connecticut so UConn was it for me. I was at UConn games. That was it for me.
Q. What do you like about it now?
MUSTAPHA HERON: I love it, the coaching staff, my teammates. I love the university, the program, everything about it.
Q. For Marvin and Mustapha, are there things that you have shared with the guys who haven't been in this environment about what it's like being in an NCAA Tournament? Like, what are the things that maybe they ask you about that you tell them, or the things that you volunteer to help them understand what this is going to be like?
MUSTAPHA HERON: Like I said earlier, I think just the biggest thing is just letting everybody know it's basketball. It's something we've been doing since we were little. As far as the pressure and all that stuff, really once you get inside them lines, it's whoever is in front of you. You're not really worried about the crowd or the media or any of that. It's basketball.
MARVIN CLARK II: Really just what I was just preaching, waking up this morning, just living in the moment. Like Mustapha said, you don't want to make it too big. Don't want to make it too big. At the end of the day it's basketball, and most important thing is just living in the moment and making sure no matter what the next morning, when you wake up, whether it's win, lose or draw, you gave it your all.
Q. Justin, Marvin, Mustapha, without embarrassing him too much, but can you all talk about what it's like to play with Shamorie, especially when he's really on top of his game and what it means for you guys when you guys are playing and he's playing well?
MARVIN CLARK II: I talk about Shamorie all the time. Great player. Really great player. But for me, you know, he helps my game so much because he draws so much attention that I get a lot of open shots because of that.
And it's great playing with him. He's a scorer, but he's one of those scorers -- he loves to pass. Loves making the pass and loves making that fancy play. He's been somebody I've enjoyed playing with over the three years. And I've enjoyed watching him grow.
I'm happy to be a part of this whole thing and this whole dynamic of him being able to stay home and get St. John's back into the tournament, being the hometown hero. It's been a blessing to play with him.
JUSTIN SIMON: What Marvin said, it's been a blessing playing with Shamorie. Me, Marvin and Shamorie came here together. Watching him grow has been major for our program and our team. He's an incredible playmaker, great hands on defense and an active player. To see him grow is amazing.
MUSTAPHA HERON: To piggyback, before I came here high school was the last time I seen him. But just to see Shamorie grow, and for him to be in the tournament now, it's the first time and we want to win it all for him.
Q. Marvin, what do you think the last few weeks have been for like coach? Loses his brother and now he gets the school he played for into the tournament. I know he doesn't like talking a lot about himself, but what do you think the last few weeks have been like for him?
MARVIN CLARK II: I would say it's the perfect balance of as low as you can be and as high as you can be. Going through what Coach is going through is something that I couldn't imagine. I couldn't imagine losing one of my brothers. Even one of these guys up here, it would eat me up inside.
But Coach is a tough guy. I think he's shown the type of mental toughness that he has to be able to go through that and we weren't really playing great basketball through that whole course of time. So for him to still want to be a part of this and want to be around us during that time means a lot and shows us how much he loves us and shows how much he loves this program. And to be able to help him get his school back into this position is dope.
Q. Have you seen any signs of, has he talked at all about it, has he shown at all --
MARVIN CLARK II: No. We know. We know what's going on. And out of respect for him we've tried our hardest to make it just about basketball. That's what he wants. He doesn't want to think about -- for me, I wouldn't want to think about losing my brother at all. I would just want to think about putting the ball in the net, being around my guys.
And that's what we've embodied and that's the way we're going to carry ourselves and try to make sure that basketball is the outlet for him.
Q. Justin, why could this team be fit for a run in March Madness?
JUSTIN SIMON: Just our versatility on both ends, offense and defense. Our ability to switch and our talent on our roster. I just feel comfortable with our guys, and I think we've got a close group. And we just want to keep competing and I don't think we're ready for our season to be over yet.
Q. What have you guys seen thus far in your prep for Arizona State?
SHAMORIE PONDS: They are very similar to us. We just gotta play our game on both ends of the floor. I mean, just let our defense be our best offense.
Q. Shamorie, you're a young man, but you've already played in a lot of very big and important basketball games -- in high school, too, and in college. How does this compare with the biggest ones you've played in? What's a close comparison?
SHAMORIE PONDS: Well, for me, I say this is the biggest. Now or never, it's like either win or go home. Like Justin said, we're not ready for our season to be over. So we just want to play as long as we can.
Q. Shamorie, a year ago you were thinking about weighing your options. You were thinking about maybe not coming back to St. John's. When you reflect back on it, what are your thoughts on the decision to do so? What does that mean to you now?
SHAMORIE PONDS: This is one of the main reasons here, being here. When I think of college basketball, this is what I dreamed of. I'm just happy to be here.
Q. Just the last couple of days here since you found out you're going to be in the tournament, has Coach shared any of his time in the NCAA Tournament and kind of reflected at all? Or what's been his message to you about playing in the tournament here tomorrow?
SHAMORIE PONDS: Coach, he hasn't really took us back, but I definitely think his experience feeds off on us. So we just are here to win games.
Q. For anybody, growing up and even in recent years, were you all fans of March Madness? And when you think back on it, what sticks out in your mind? What's the most memorable March Madness you ever saw?
SHAMORIE PONDS: I say Villanova winning the championship, not last year but when Kris Jenkins hit the buzzer beater, I mean, I feel, why would I not want to be there?
JUSTIN SIMON: Growing up, I had a good friend that played for San Diego State. So I watched them play. And I had the opportunity to watch them play -- they played Arizona in Anaheim -- excuse me, UConn at Anaheim. So I watched that game. I always wanted to be part of the March Madness.
My freshman year I didn't get a chance to play. So I'm glad I'm back here today.
MARVIN CLARK II: For me, when I was younger, growing up, just watching the "One Shining Moment," the "One Shining Moment" clips, having your little moment. To me that's something that I just always wanted to be a part of. And I also grew up watching older guys play that would come back home and share their memories. It's just like why wouldn't you want to be a part of it; why wouldn't you want to leave your legacy or mark on a program?
MUSTAPHA HERON: Pretty much the same, to piggyback off what they said, growing up watching all my favorite college players. Marvin messed up my bracket my senior year of high school, but we had to get it back for him.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Questions for Coach Mullin?
Q. Chris, what are you enjoying about your first NCAA Tournament as a coach?
COACH MULLIN: Got a good night's sleep last night. I enjoyed that. I just think the excitement, I think the ride over, the guys are excited to be here. They've got a good feel about what they've accomplished, and good practice yesterday and everything else is pretty much status quo.
Q. The guys seem to get -- immediately they got over that whole "we're the last team in." How does that not matter to them, the fact that they were the 68th choice out of 68?
COACH MULLIN: Actually because it doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is it does not matter. So it's kind of quite factual. And so it's a true new beginning. No. 1, No. 16, 12, there's no advantage. You gotta go out and play good basketball. You play good basketball, you move on; if you don't, your season's over.
Different experiences -- I was part of the team that was the last team in the NBA playoffs on the last day of the season. And we upset the No. 1 team with the most wins in the NBA. So it truly does not matter. You don't have to make that up. That's not something you have to tell stories about; that's the fact.
Q. Can you talk about the first time you saw Shamorie play? And when you think back to that time could you see him develop into what he's become, or is it even a surprise to you what he's been able to become as a college player?
COACH MULLIN: I watched Shamorie quite a bit in the AAU circuit. But I remember distinctly watching his city championship game at Madison Square Garden. And he played a great game. I remember sitting there, like, wow, this is going to be tough to figure this kid out to play with other good players and high-level competition.
So I think that's a great question because I think it's underrated how much he's improved. He's obviously had three incredible seasons historically with his numbers and his stats. But his improvement, I think, has been overlooked from his strength, his play making, his defense has improved.
And I think he's one of -- not many players can really influence the game in a lot of different ways like he does. He doesn't have to score to influence the game. And he draws so much attention, that just being on the floor he makes his teammates better.
Q. When he's playing his best, what does that do for the other players? He seems to be the kind of player, especially when he's playing his A game, can really make other players better and can make what you do more reasonably -- you guys do that stuff because what he's able to do. Is that a pretty accurate representation of what he is?
COACH MULLIN: I think that's right on. And to another level, when he's really playing at a fast pace and really attacking off the dribble, that adds a whole other dimension. When he's on the floor he attracts attention. But when he comes off pick-and-rolls, and really making a concerted effort to get to the paint and get down hill, he collapses the defense and he creates nice opportunities for his teammates.
Q. There's an idea that coaches who have played at the highest level often struggle as coaches because they can't get their players to dedicated themselves the way they dedicated themselves as players growing up. Do you agree with that? Have you had any challenges with that during your time as a coach at St. John's?
COACH MULLIN: I wasn't quite that high-level player to really judge other people. So from this -- from where I sit, I'm always really trying to sometimes pass on my experiences, if it's appropriate. More importantly, I was just talking to Austin Croshere. More importantly, I referenced a lot of coaches that I played for and things they did to help me.
I played with Austin with the Pacers -- and I do reference Larry Bird a lot to my guys, because I do think a lot of times we get caught up in wins and losses, and Larry was one of the coaches that actually told us how we played. There were games we played really well and lost, and he would be okay with it, and games we played really bad and won, and be honest with that.
I just try to pass on different things to help our guys from Coach Carnesecca always. It hasn't always been tough. Those things come up when you lose, but it's not because you're a good player. You want to win the game. So you're trying to fix those things to play better the next game. That's really where my focus comes from.
Q. You mentioned Coach Carnesecca. We know you're in touch. Have you had conversations with him about bringing a team to an NCAA Tournament? Has there been any wisdom that he's given you? Can you tell us a little bit about conversations with him?
COACH MULLIN: Yeah, I passed through Queens the other night on our off day, I think it was Friday. I went to his house. Spent two hours with him. We didn't talk anything about basketball. He did pass on a lot of wisdom.
Look, I went to four tournaments with him, watched him handle all different types of situations the four years I played for him, probably more importantly how he's handled his players, their families. So the night I spent with him, he was telling me about his high school friends. He told me there was five; there's only four left and we're still in touch.
So we sat for two hours. He was telling me stories about the Oldies side, his father's fruit stand on 62nd and Second Avenue. But there's not a whole lot that he needs to tell me because I experienced a lot with him. I watched everything he did.
I listened -- most of the stories I tell are very, not only relevant but clear in my mind. And that's why I reference, it's passing that knowledge, that care, just passing that stuff on to the next generation. That's how I really look at it; I'm really just here to guide these kids. Of course I want them to play well. I want them to look good. I want them to win. But it's also passing on the knowledge and mentoring them like I was. That's what people did for me.
Q. What's the emotion been like walking into the arena today compared to when you did it as a player? Are there any parallels between playing in the tournament and now coaching in the tournament with St. John's?
COACH MULLIN: I think the parallel is the renewed excitement. I had four different experiences, when -- I thought my second year we had probably a really a good chance of really move along deep in the tournament. And my last year we did move along.
The other two years we were similar to this team, just getting in there and trying to figure your way through it. So I think the excitement of a new season is there. I haven't been in the arena yet. So I can't answer that part. But I think the excitement and newness.
This was a new experience for me sitting in that room -- and, Mike, you and Roger were there -- watching those kids, like that authentic explosion of emotion. I hadn't seen that. I've watched it on TV before. I never sat in a room like that. I guess similar to I've seen kids in the draft room and the different emotions that go through that, kids getting picked early, maybe kids not getting picked.
So to stand there, I was in the back and just to watch that, that was a new experience for me at 55. So that was cool.
Q. Do you and Bobby have any kind of relationship? He obviously grew up in the area and played in the area until he went to Duke. Did you guys know each other?
COACH MULLIN: I know the Hurley family very well. His dad obviously a Hall of Fame coach at St. Anthony's. So, I've known him since I was in high school. Bobby, I met personally at the Dream Team, at the workouts when he was playing for the Select Team. His brother Dan I know as well. So I know their family very well. It's basketball royalty of New Jersey. And they just love the game of basketball. They teach it. They're very intense and the whole family is involved and I've known them for a long time.
Q. Remind you of your family at all?
COACH MULLIN: No, I'm the only idiot that decided to coach in my family. (Laughter).
Q. We all know how much the colors and that St. John's logo make you, what does it mean to have St. John's in this tournament, what does it mean to you personally to have this school in the tournament?
COACH MULLIN: In my mind, we're supposed to be here every year. It's gotten tougher, it has; it's gotten harder to get into this tournament. There are 353 Division I schools, somewhere around there, to be one of 68, we're proud of that. And we are going to continue to do that. But also we want to while we're here represent ourselves with class, dignity and humility.
Q. You brought up the Dream Team scrimmages in San Diego. I was going to ask your impressions of Bobby during those sessions.
COACH MULLIN: He played great. He played really, really well. I think I'm on tape -- one of the sessions -- that was a long time ago, but a lot of those guys -- and Bobby being maybe at the top of the list -- really helped his status among NBA executives because he played really, really well against -- well, you know who he was playing against.
And I think they all used that and fueled it when they went back to school or into the draft. But he was a leader. He was one of those guys that always overachieved, played hard as nails and did whatever it took to win, made his teammates better.
Q. I know you've joked for years about who you try -- if you were trying to set yourself as Mr. St. John's, the kids' parents would know who you were more than the kids, because time passes. But when you try to sell your part of the program to recruits, what do you think interests them the most: Your time as a player? Your time as a coach? Your time as an executive? Of those things, what do you think, for a kid, if you were in their place what do you think would appeal to them most about going to play for you?
COACH MULLIN: Good question. I think it's a combination of all. I think these kids are very intelligent. They have access to all information, past, present and sometimes even in the future, if they read your guys' stuff. But I think it's everything.
I can go back -- when Coach Carnesecca recruited me. The fact that he coached in the pros was intriguing to me. I liked that. Look, a lot of these kids, that's their dream, and you want to do everything you can to fulfill that dream with the insurance plan of education and degree. But I think having experiences across the board, I think, helps. And then, look, in this day and age of so many transfers, I think the kids hopefully are getting a little smarter and emphasizing the right thing.
So what they're going to study, style of play, how you're going to get along with the coach, not just listen to me, is it someone you can form a bond with and trust and feel good about playing for us. So I think all those things are important.
Q. Not only for the guys who are here now, but what does it do for some kid who is maybe thinking about where he's going to go to college just to see you guys in this tournament?
COACH MULLIN: So the exposure is something you can't even -- you can't find that anywhere. People start saying where's St. John's, and they watch kids play. They associate with some player, maybe Shamorie Ponds, they want to be the next Shamorie Ponds or next Mustapha Heron, whatever, and this stage provides something that you can't get anywhere else. So the big stage, just the fact that we're out there and so many people watching, that's a huge thing for the school.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports