St. John’s awaits with open arms as Rick Pitino reflects on the future
ALBANY — Rick Pitino gave Iona an up-close and personal view of how a Hall of Fame coach can impact a program through the strength of his personality and basketball genius.
He was the right person at the right time for Iona, just as Iona was the right school and the right job at the right time for him.
Basketball utopia for the Gaels at a time when they needed another in a long line of winning coaches, and basketball utopia for Pitino at a time in his life when he needed a team , needed another chance after all the NCAA turmoil, even though utopia often ends in the blink of an eye in March and he was forced through to congratulate Dan Hurley and Connecticut on Friday for their victory 87-63 over Iona in the West Region first round at MVP Arena.
What now for Rick Pitino?
“I really have no idea what the future holds,” Pitino said.
There was no limo with Lou Carnesecca waiting inside observed outside the MVP Arena to take him to a certain college on Utopia Parkway, where a fanbase desperately looking for a savior waits with open arms for his dream.
King of queens.
Because St. John’s hasn’t had a Hall of Fame coach…since Lou Carnesecca.
Virtually everyone agrees it would be a game in heaven, with the New Yawk Native Son returning to a different Big East than the one they cherished when coaching two seasons at Providence, but the Big East when same, with UConn back.
So when the dashboard clock struck zero, St. John’s was officially on the clock waiting for Saint Rick.
Red Storm Rising in prayer.
“I don’t know if it’s good for me, another job, I don’t know,” Pitino said.
He told the Post he should research St. John’s to decide if this is indeed the right job for him.
“You don’t buy houses without looking at the garage, the floor, the kitchen and everything,” Pitino said. “You just don’t buy a house.”
But sometimes the house buys you.
Roll out the red carpet, guys.
Pitino knew what he was up against on Friday, a program Hurley had rebuilt from the ground up, with Final Four ambitions. A deep team that had Iona at its mercy on the window (45-29).
The Gaels played fearlessly, played to win, and it reminded everyone inside the MVP Arena, especially the shocked Huskies fans, why Kentucky and Louisville national champion Pitino is the secretariat of his 70-year-old sport.
Pitino cajoled, encouraged, inspired, growled even when the moment demanded it, crouching down to play defense alongside his players in a way few men his age can.
They were playing the big game they had to play against UConn, written by the great Hall of Fame coach. Their best half of the year. Iona’s small contingent opposite the Gaels bench were on their feet screaming as Pitino entered the half-time locker room with a 39-37 lead.
Alas, it’s a 40-minute game.
Goliath mercilessly snatched Pitino’s slingshot with his destructive defense and signature swagger and stomped on it, and Bill Murray, no joke, danced in the stands (his son, Luke, is a UConn assistant). Jordan Hawkins – 0 for 6 in the first half – howled early in the second half to ignite the Huskies and finish with 13 points, and big man Adama Sanogo. an indomitable beast inside (22 of his season-high 28 second-half points, 13 rebounds), carried the Huskies all the way and brought down the last vestiges of hope from the Gaels … who played their worst half of the year.
Thirteenth-seeded Iona players had ignored questions about whether Pitino might move on. All they cared about was shocking UConn and making history for a school that had officially gone 0-15 in the NCAA Tournament.
But they were there after the record fell to 0-16, facing the worst of March Sadness: the end of a dream and not knowing if the Hall of Fame coach they revere would coach them again.
“The level of excellence is just through the roof every day,” said Daniss Jenkins. “If you want to be challenged, if you want to be a great player, this is the coach you want to play for.”
How devastating would it be for the school if he left?
“I think it will be pretty devastating,” Jenkins said, “but that’s life.”
Red Storm Rising in prayer… for their King of Queens dream.