A familiar face is back in the Big Apple, and he was welcomed by another familiar face.
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, a New York City native, was introduced March 21 as the 22nd head coach in St. John’s University, Jamaica, men’s basketball history. On hand for the festivities was fellow Hall of Famer and former St. John’s legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca, now 98 years old.
“Coach Pitino is one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the game and has won at the highest levels everywhere he has coached,” said St. John’s Director of Athletics Mike Cragg. “There is no doubt in my mind he will restore a championship-level program and culture for St. John’s basketball.”
The accolades for Pitino are almost too long to list. The 70-year-old coach has made 23 NCAA Tournament appearances with five different schools and advanced to the Final Four seven times — a total reached by only six coaches all-time.
In 35 seasons as a head coach, he amassed an 834-293 career record. He guided both the University of Kentucky (1996) and University of Louisville (2013) to national championship titles. He became the first coach to take three different schools to the Final Four and the first coach to win an NCAA championship at two different schools.
“First of all, I don’t think we could have picked a better coach,” Carnesecca told The Tablet. “Not because I say it but because he’s got some portfolio. Wherever he’s coached, he’s won.”
Not too long ago, Pitino and Carnesecca faced off as Big East rivals. Pitino coached in the conference during his time at Louisville (when the school was a member) as well as his stint at Providence College.
“One of my great coaching memories was having the distinct privilege of coaching against Lou Carnesecca and St John’s — a Hall of Fame coach and historic pro- gram that I have always respected,” said Pitino, who attended St. Dominic’s H.S., Oyster Bay, L.I. “It is surreal to now have this opportunity to bring St. John’s back to prominence.”
St. John’s finished the 2022-2023 season 18-15 — eighth in the Big East Conference. Head coach Mike Anderson’s squad started the year 11-1 but struggled in conference play, leading to his departure.
Pitino hopes to reinvigorate the storied program. He’s coming off three straight postseason appearances as the head coach of Iona University, New Rochelle, N.Y., which included a pair of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular season titles and two tournament championships.
“For us it’s a big coup,” said Carnesecca, whose coaching career began in 1950 at St. Ann’s H.S., now Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood. “I think at this time we needed a boost to get us going again, and I think he’s (Pitino) the guy that can do it.
“He knows the job. I think it’s important that he’s also familiar with New York, he knows St. John’s, and has coached against St. John’s and the Big East. There’s a familiarity there.
“He’s not walking into a new situation. He knows a lot about St. John’s, having grown up in the city. I think we’re fortunate because his experience is beyond reproach. He’s done it all.”
When asked how his coaching style — which has worked at various stops all over the country — would translate well to Queens, Carnesecca put it simply:
“Very well. There’s no doubt about it. The best way I can put it: He’s a pro. He knows the ins and outs.”
With Carnesecca’s blessing, Pitino is set to rely on his extensive track record to revive the Johnnies’ program. Madison Square Garden should be hopping once again with Red Storm pride.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.