Grant Mullins Is On Point For Columbia

When Brian Barbour went from an elite starting point guard to just another name in a long list of Columbia’s distinguished alumni, the Lions seemed poised to begin a long rebuilding effort.

Head coach Kyle Smith likes to think that process started years ago.

Sophomore Grant Mullins will get the nod at point guard when the Lions open up competition this November. Smith recruited Mullins for last season in anticipation of Barbour’s departure.

“Grant’s had a lot of experience,” Smith said. “We’re not asking him to be Brian, because Brian evolved as such a leader with years in the program. But Grant has had an opportunity to grow a lot in that area too.”

Smith said that it was crucial for Mullins to get a year to soak up as much information as possible from Barbour. The duo often split time at the point guard position last season. Mullins far exceeded expectations, starting 18 games, while finishing second on the team in scoring at 9.7 points per game.

Mullins noted that though they both have different mindsets while playing the point guard position – Mullins thinks of himself as more of a scoring point guard, while Barbour is pass-first – he gained a wealth of knowledge by playing alongside the Columbia legend, who is the only player in Columbia history to finish with more than 1,000 points, 300 assists and 100 steals in his career.

“It was great learning from a guy like that,” Mullins said. “The transition from high school to college was a big transition, and he taught me a lot of little things at that position. He taught me how he got fouled, how to be a leader. It definitely helped a lot learning from him.

Though the loss of Barbour might sting, the return of players like Noah Springwater, Meiko Lyles, and Van Green, should be rejuvenation. All three were sidelined for all or most of last season. Springwater was the only one of those players to see any playing time, getting just 76 minutes on the court, while scoring a total of 12 points.

They will add depth to what was, at times last season, a shaky backcourt. The three will play alongside long-range shooting sensation Steve Frankoski and Maodo Lo – one of a few Lions who had a breakout Ivy League season. Smith also indicated that Isaac Cohen and incoming freshman Kendall Jackson would see increased minutes in the backcourt.

“I think what we have is really good building blocks. I think a lot of the heavy lifting was done in the first three years of the program. The nuts and bolts are there,” Smith said. “I think the talent is good. It’s about just breaking through. I know what it’s like to coach a team that’s not competitive. That’s a bad feeling. We’re very competitive.”

Last season, many expected the Lions to be competitive. They were picked to finish third in the Ivy League preseason poll. That wasn’t the case though, as Columbia dropped close games left and right to finish dead last in the Ivy League with a 4-10 conference record. Of the 10 Ivy League losses, eight were by six points or fewer. They did, however, beat NCAA tournament participants Villanova and Harvard by double digits.

Mullins said he expects the heat to be on him to help lead Columbia back into contention.

“I think there is pressure,” Mullins said. “Coach Smith talks to me about that, with Brian gone along with some other seniors. That leaves some leadership gaps. I definitely think I need to step up there.”

Sam Blum is a writer for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on twitter @DaBlumsta

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