Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Pitino: "Now we have to prove it"


St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino. @StJohnsBball.

The St. John's Red Storm basketball program held their media day on Tuesday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena, and all eyes were on the man who has transformed the program: Men's Basketball Head Coach Rick Pitino.

This will be Pitino's 36th season at the NCAA Division I level, and he spoke one day after St. John's received 47 votes in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.

That only adds to the anticipation after an exhilarating summer of massive additions to the Red Storm roster.

Pitino cornered the transfer market, starting with bringing three players with him from Iona, where he took the Gaels to March Madness multiple times; 2022-23 Ivy League Player of the Year Jordan Dingle, Kansas transfer Zuby Ejiofor, andOregon State transfer Glenn Taylor, Jr. In addition, he also recruited top-10 high school prospect Brady Dunlap, and graduate transfers Nahiem Alleyne, Sean Conway, and Daniss Jankins.

St. John's will make their debut this Saturday at Carnesecca Arena as they host Rutgers at 2 p.m. in an exhibition game.

Here is what Pitino said to the assembled media:

Opening statement: "Well, good afternoon, we are very excited to play against someone other than ourselves this weekend. We get a chance to play against a very well-coached Rutgers basketball team and all the funds that are collected to go to pediatric cancer [research]. We are very excited to see where we are as a team at this point, because we have 14 players learning a completely new offensive and defensive systems with the exception of the three players that came from Iona. It will be a challenge for us to play this soon against a great team like Rutgers, but we are also very excited to get on the court and compete against them."

On how he rebuilt the St. John's program: "I get a chance now to walk around he streets of New York and the comments are awesome. Just people yelling 'Go Johnnies!' and I've never had that before. Everyone is looking forward to it. There is an anticipation and excitement about us. Now we have to prove it. I think when you build a brand it starts with winning. It starts with creating a style of play that everyone loves to see and I think we are doing that right now. It starts with building an exciting schedule. I want to get back to playing great teams all the time in the non-conference [schedule] and then you have the BIG EAST. We're building a brand where it is a great schedule, great style of play, winning, obviously, and recruiting great players."

On the team's development: "We have an outstanding group right now and the thing about the team is they are barely scratching their potential. The guy with the most upside on our basketball team right now is Joel [Soriano]. Yesterday was by far his best practice, but he has the most growth [potential] of anyone on our team. He is in great shape and when you get in great shape, you can do things you didn't think you could do. He's improving, making one, two or three 3-pointers every practice and he has never made a three in his career."

On adjusting to the transfer portal: "Well, sometimes in a very short period of time, you want to make sure the players fit into the style of play, and fortunately, these players do. I definitely don't want to go away from [recruiting] freshmen. These are the rules that we are playing under right now and we are going to make the best of it. We are going to compete against anyone in the nation recruiting wise. We have our master plan."

On the team's character: "Every coach says what great kids they have, but you can't find the character we have. I've never had 14 players like this. There are always a couple guys you have to keep one eye open at night and with these guys I don't have to worry about that one bit. Their parents did a fabulous job. They are just incredible. I message them five or six times a night and they all always message me back. They are a great group and they can flat out play."

On how strong the Big East Conference will be this season: "I was a part of the Big East (with Louisville) when we had nine teams make the tournament in 2011 and it was certainly very strong. It seems vert strong today. I think it will be a very strong, a very difficult conference to win on the road and we are going to get better each week. The players don't know each other really well yet...but I see tremendous improvement."

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