St. John’s Rick Pitino Plans to Elevate the Johnny Image

The 70-year-old coach is taking the Big East by storm.

Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

Rick Pitino has officially become the 22nd head coach of the St. John’s University Men’s Basketball team. The 70-year-old signed a six-year coaching deal on Monday.

Pitino’s career spans almost five decades between the NBA, international teams and collegiate Division I programs. He’s made seven trips to the Final Four and won two NCAA championships, one at Kentucky (1996) and Louisville (2013). He most recently brought Iona University to the NCAA tournament in 2021 and 2023. 

The program missed four straight NCAA Tournaments under Mike Anderson and has not won an NCAA Tournament game in 23 years. 

The coach returned to Madison Square Garden – where he once coached the Knicks – for his first official press conference on Tuesday. 

It was University President Brian Shanley who made the decision to hire Pitino. “Rick knows Big East basketball and is determined to take and keep the Red Storm program where we know it belongs,” Shanley said in a statement at Tuesday’s press conference. 

When asked if he would take the job if Shanley were not the president of the University, Pitino quickly answered, “probably not.”

Over the next six years, Pitino hopes to create a new culture at St. John’s. One of his first orders was to name senior center Joel Soriano as the team’s captain. “I asked about the character of the basketball team. I didn’t get glowing reports, but I did get a glowing report on Joel Soriano,” Pitino told The Torch. “We’re gonna bring him to a level he didn’t even think he could reach.” The only other player Pitino mentioned his full commitment to was sophomore forward Drissa Traore. 

He also shared his hopes to bring in “six to eight” more players for the 2023-2024 season.  

The coach shared his plans to expand games played at The Garden. “My vision is to play every game at Madison Square Garden, conference-wise. It has to be at a major facility,” Pitino said. “Carnesecca Arena is not big enough for the brand of basketball we’re gonna build.”

With legendary St. John’s coach Lou Carnesseca in the audience, Pitino shared his love and appreciation for him. 

“Lou built a legendary program, and we will get back to those days by exemplifying everything he did,” Pitino said of the 98-year-old. 

Pitino knows of the hard work that’s ahead and will approach it with a basketball-first mindset. “I’m all in for everything St. John’s stands for. It’s going to start with a culture of work.”