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St. John’s hires Rick Pitino as next men’s basketball coach

The Pitino-watch is done

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of speculation and rumors, the Red Storm have their next head coach of the men’s basketball program: Rick Pitino.

St. John’s will name Rick Pitino the 22nd head coach in men’s basketball program history tomorrow at Madison Square Garden. The Hall of Fame coach visited campus yesterday, and he and the St. John’s decision-makers got the deal done quickly, it seems.

The deal is expected to be a 6-year deal, according to the NY Post’s Zach Braziller. Pitino finished the season at Iona with a loss to Connecticut this Friday in the NCAA Tournament with a 27-8 record.

Pitino makes a return to power conference basketball after being fired by Louisville in 2017 in the wake of the Louisville basketball prostitution scandal, in which the NCAA ruled that Pitino failed to monitor the recruiting activities occurring at Louisville. Before the start of this season, Rick Pitino was cleared of wrongdoing and received no sanctions by the NCAA from a separate bribery scandal that began the same year.

Pitino has since spent three years coaching in Greece, leading professional basketball team Panathinaikos from 2018 to 2020, winning the Greek Basket League cup in 2019.

In March of 2020, Pitino accepted the vacant head coaching position at Iona and replaced the resigning Tim Cluess, who left the program due to health issues. Pitino led the Gaels to two NCAA tournament appearances, most recently a 87-63 first round loss to 4-seed UConn in this year’s NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon.

Other potential high-major suitors for the 70-year old coach included Georgetown and Texas Tech, but Pitino ultimately decided to remain in the New York City area and attempt to revitalize a dormant St. John’s men’s basketball program in what could be his final chapter as a college basketball coach. He will be bringing his staff with him from Iona, including veteran coach Steve Masiello and former UConn guard Taliek Brown.

Next season, the Red Storm are searching for their first tournament appearance in five years and their first NCAA tournament win since 2000.

Pitino replaces Mike Anderson as head coach, who was fired on March 10th, one day after a Big East quarterfinal loss to Marquette. Anderson finished his four-year stint at St. John’s with an overall record of 68-56, a Big East record of 30-46, and zero postseason appearances. He is currently looking to arbitrate his firing, which St. John’s said was “for cause” — which allows the school to walk from the deal without paying out the $11 million still owed to Anderson.

But for now, Rick Pitino will bring excitement back to the program, a pressing, demanding system that has been successful at all of his stops, and the ability to bring in both highly-regarded players, and lesser-known players who fit his system.