Insider Insights: Unveiling 5 Intriguing Questions for a Chat with St. John’s Coach Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino is bringing hope to St. John’s fans as they hope to win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2000. As a Hall-of-Fame head coach, Pitino believes that the team has a chance to make it happen in 2024. I had the opportunity to discuss his return to power conference basketball, the Big East, and other intriguing topics during my interview with him in Queens on Friday.

Jon Rothstein: How does it feel to be back in a conference that is likely to have multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament, considering your experience at Iona for the past three years?

Rick Pitino: I had a great time at Iona and enjoyed everything about it except for being in a one-bid league. Thankfully, we won it two out of the three years I was there. But sometimes, even after a season of hard work, the outcome may not go your way on a single night, and you’re out of the tournament. Now, we’re part of the Big East, which is the strongest conference in college basketball, and there’s a possibility that seven, eight, or nine teams from our conference can secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Rothstein: Your first season at St. John’s has given you a team with incredible depth but lacks a clear go-to player. Will this team rely more on a committee approach?

Pitino: I can’t even tell you who will start. As of now, I could only say that Daniss Jenkins is probably the only definite starter. Apart from him, it’s uncertain. We have a group of talented players, and that’s not a problem. There may not be any standout players, but if Joel Soriano gets in the best shape of his life, he has the potential to be exceptional. However, it remains to be seen.

Rothstein: Out of the many talented players on your team, who do you think needs to emerge for St. John’s to reach its full potential?

Pitino: I believe RJ Luis, who is currently injured, possesses a lot of talent. Brady Dunlap is also highly skilled. I genuinely think Daniss Jenkins has greatness within him. Joel Soriano has tremendous potential as well. RJ Luis and Jordan Dingle also have greatness within them. They just need to embrace it fully without limiting themselves. The future holds a lot of promise for them.

Rothstein: You won the last Big East Tournament in 2013 with Louisville when it was still the old version of the conference. Are you surprised that this current version of the Big East has risen to such a high level?

Pitino: The Big East could have had three teams in the Final Four last year. What excites me the most is that, 25 years ago, college football and college basketball were on the same level. However, now football has taken a massive leap, leaving basketball behind in most cases. But the Big East is an exception. It is a basketball conference, and we are proud to be the last ones standing.

Rothstein: Ten years ago, after winning the national title with Louisville, you got a tattoo. St. John’s hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000. If you achieve that milestone with this team in 2024, will you get a tattoo?

Pitino: Absolutely not. If we make it to the Final Four, I’ll get a tattoo on any part of my body. But winning a tournament game or even reaching the Sweet 16 won’t lead to a tattoo. However, we are confident that we will get there eventually. It may happen this year or in the future, but once we establish our presence, we will maintain it.



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