The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

“Rising Storm” Episode Two: Replicating “Heat Culture?”

Pitino, players sit down to discuss the new St. John’s culture and the love of the game.
Photo Courtesy / YouTube St. John’s Red Storm

Over the last four years, the tight knit culture that Erik Spoelstra has built with the Miami Heat has dominated the NBA. Through grit and unity, that culture has propelled Miami to multiple conference finals appearances and two finals appearances since 2020. 

In the second episode of St. John’s new all-access docuseries, Men’s Basketball head coach Rick Pitino says he’d like to build a Heat-esque culture in Queens. 

“We’d like to build a little bit of that here,” Pitino said, “because it is a culture, and you have to change the culture.”

He enters a situation with the Red Storm who desperately needed a full culture reset, after years of underwhelming play on the court and unacceptable behavior off of it. Last year alone, St. John’s went 7-13 in conference play, and was forced to hand out multiple suspensions due to conduct detrimental to the team. 

“We need to bring back that strong culture where everybody’s in this for one reason, to play for that name on the front,” Pitino said. 

Pitino’s culture shift started by gutting last year’s roster, only keeping two players, while bringing in 12 new faces. Episode two highlights five of those new faces: Kansas transfer Zuby Ejiofor, Oregon State transfer Glenn Taylor, Massachusetts transfer RJ Luis and incoming freshmen Brady Dunlap and Simeon Wilcher. 

In Pitino’s introductory press conference, he said it takes a certain type of player to want to play for him. He stressed the need for his players to be “over the top in love with the game of basketball.” If episode two showed fans anything, it showed how committed the new faces are to bringing St. John’s back to prominence. 

For both RJ Luis and Zuby Ejiofor, family is what helped them fall in love with the game.

“My passion for basketball came at a young age,” Luis said. “Both my parents played the sport, so I [kind of] fell in love with it. It runs through my blood.”

“[My love for basketball] started when I was around 10 or 11, I was just in a rec center with my brothers watching other guys play basketball,” Ejiofor added. 

While expectations are set high for this year’s squad, programs do not become dominant overnight. It takes time to build a culture, but players are seeming to buy in early. 

Brady Dunlap, the freshman from Studio City, California, expressed his excitement for the future of St. John’s Basketball.

“When I’m a senior or junior, we’re all gonna be so connected and so close as a group. We’re going to have transfers coming in, but we’re going to have a nucleus that has been here. [We] can teach them, and show them the way of Coach Pitino.”

History tends to repeat itself. When a polarizing figure takes over an underachieving program with intentions of implementing a new culture, major changes are inevitable. Much like what Deion Sanders has done for Colorado and their football program, Rick Pitino and his new roster have their minds set on bringing basketball back to prominence in New York City. 

Episode three of “Rising Storm” releases Thursday, Sept. 21st. 

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Kyler Fox, Asst. Sports Editor
Kyler is a junior journalism student serving as an Assistant Sports Editor. Outside of The Torch, Kyler is a contributor for both A Daly Dose of Hoops and Last Word on Sports. When he isn’t writing, you can either find him keeping up with his favorite sports teams or checking out the latest sneaker drops.

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