A one-year rental can help a team greatly in achieving its goals for a single season. Yet, while Chris Collins added a pair of graduate transfers to the team in Blake Preston and Ryan Langborg this offseason, he also welcomed in someone whose impact should last much longer in Evanston.
Justin Mullins, a 6-foot-6 wing, will be transferring to Northwestern from Denver after his freshman year. Mullins is a Chicagoland native, hailing from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Mullins was not a highly-regarded recruit out of high school (247Sports’ Composite rankings had him as an unranked player), but he dazzled as a first-year at Denver. In his one and only year with the Pioneers, Mullins averaged 9.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. More importantly for Mullins, he showed great efficiency on offense, shooting 51.8% from the field and 36.8% on threes. He was also a productive defender, averaging 1.5 steals per game, which led his team and ranked fourth overall in the Summit League.
Mullins’ stats show that he is a young player with a lot of upside. He will likely play a similar role on this Northwestern team to the role Chase Audige has played in the past. Although Mullins’ chance at a spot in the starting five will likely change drastically if Audige decides to come back, he will be an important part of Northwestern’s rotation next year regardless.
Mullins was consistent all year defensively. He had three games this year where he tallied four steals or more, including a performance against South Dakota where he posted 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and a whopping six steals. His highest scoring total of the season was against New Orleans, when he had 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting while playing 38 minutes.
Mullins had one other game with more than 20 points this season, when he scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting against Colorado Christian (a Division II team). Mullins also had four steals in that game, leading the Pioneers to an 85-74 victory.
He also showcased his ability to play against higher-level competition when the Pioneers took on UCLA. He posted 14 points, three rebounds and three assists on 6-of-12 shooting in an 87-64 road loss. But perhaps more impressive than the stats, Mullins had an instant highlight when he secured a rebound over UCLA center Kenneth Nwuba, and took the ball coast-to-coast, dribbled behind his back to evade the 2023 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, Jaylen Clark, and finished off the play by drawing a foul from Tyger Campbell, while converting an and-one (5:10 mark of this video below).
Throughout the Pioneers’ game against UCLA, Mullins was up to the challenge, despite playing in only the 11th game of his college career. He spent most of that game guarding McDonald’s All-American (and fellow freshman) Amari Bailey, and played a major role in limiting Bailey to four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Mullins maintained a high level of play as a first-year while managing a heavy load of minutes and his consistency was propelled by his defensive abilities. He should fit in well with Northwestern’s identity as a defense-first team. Mullins made a habit of jumping into passing lanes and creating turnovers that turned into easy transition buckets at the other end of the court for Denver.
Northwestern will be getting a great defender, who still has many years to improve even more from a very solid foundation. Mullins’ defensive prowess will allow him to develop into a great overall player over the course of his time at Northwestern, as his offensive game continues to improve simultaneously.
An efficient shooter and effective defender is a must-have for any great college basketball team, and Mullins should be able to do just that for the Wildcats next year. His ability to jump into passing lanes should fit Northwestern’s system perfectly, and he can be an immediate contributor as a perimeter defender for the ‘Cats next year, along with solid offensive production as an athletic, slashing wing.