Mullin shares sports lessons

Former Princeton star Kevin Mullin, pictured with former Tigers coach Pete Carril, has written a handbook for young athletes. Mullin was a top tennis and basketball player at Gateway.
Former Princeton star Kevin Mullin, pictured with former Tigers coach Pete Carril, has written a handbook for young athletes. Mullin was a top tennis and basketball player at Gateway.
Posted: June 13, 2011

Kevin Mullin's start in sports was typical. He was a dreamer of a 7-year-old batboy.

His finish was typical, too. He bumped up against the ceiling of his competitive ability - although in his case, it was in training camp with the 1984 Boston Celtics.

Mullin was a skinny kid from Wenonah, a leafy little town in Gloucester County, who remembers the "nirvana" of sitting in the back of the coach's station wagon, eating a cherry Slurpee with the other boys, and basking in the aroma of "leather, grass and baseball."

He was a hard worker who got up at 4 a.m. to study as a student at Gateway, a tall athlete without much strength but with the uncanny eye-hand coordination and inner drive to become a star tennis and basketball player at the Colonial Conference school.

Mullin went to Princeton, sat on the bench for three years, became an all-Ivy League player as a senior, lit up the NCAA tournament one magical night, and was a fourth-round draft pick of the Celtics.

OK, so maybe his journey was not so typical. But Mullin has stories to tell, and lessons to impart, and that's why he has written Student Athletes - A Guide to the Future, an e-book available at Amazon.com.

"I felt I had something important to say and valuable experiences to share," Mullin said. "I wanted to pass along what I've learned to high school athletes and middle school athletes to help guide them through some critical decisions they have to make."

The book is an easy, breezy read. Mullin remembers Princeton coach Pete Carril smoking a cigar in the gym while watching him score 50 in a state tournament game. He remembers watching future NBA great Chris Mullin, no relation, make 187 of 200 jump shots in a stunning shooting display at a summer camp.

The best thing about the book is that it's neither preachy nor pedantic. It's just an entertaining story that should resonate with young athletes and their parents.

Mullin was a terrific tennis and basketball player at Gateway. He also was 6-foot-3, thin and lacking in foot speed. He was recruited by two schools, Haverford and Princeton, and the cantankerous Carril wasn't even sure Mullin could play in the Ivy League.

Carril used to ask Mullin if his favorite singer was Linda Ronstadt and favorite song was "Blue Bayou" when Mullin would struggle on defense at practice.

"Your man just blew by you," Carril would say.

Mullin credits Carril with the tough love that inspired him to dig deep, to reach his potential on the basketball court. By his senior year, Mullin was ready to lead Princeton to the Ivy League title and score 38 in an NCAA tournament game against San Diego.

Mullin nearly made a Boston Celtics team that included Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish. He writes that he was the last cut, just a notch below fellow rookie Rick Carlisle, current coach of the Dallas Mavericks.

Mullin knows most athletes won't be good enough to play at Princeton, much less in the professional ranks. But his experiences - the challenges of balancing schoolwork and sports, the self-satisfaction of pushing himself to the limit of his ability in both areas - are universal.

Things are a lot more complicated for student athletes today than they were when Mullin graduated from Gateway in 1980. There's so much more travel ball, early specialization, parental influence. And one reason Mom and Dad can be overbearing is that college is so much more expensive.

Mullin wants the athletes and their parents to enjoy the moment but also to step back, to gain some perspective, to map out a realistic plan for the future.

"It's just so much more complex today," said Mullin, a married father of three who runs his own consulting firm. "These kids are under so much pressure. I want to help them embrace their own journey."


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com,

or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.

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