Rick Pitino already has bestowed his own name on his son. He hopes to one day give him one more thing: his job as head coach at St. John’s.
Following St. John’s 85-57 Big East win over last-place DePaul on Tuesday night at UBS Arena, Pitino was asked about the head coaching position for the Blue Demons (3-20, 0-12) that was created with the Jan. 22 firing of Tony Stubblefield. Many names have been been linked to it as candidates, including New Mexico coach Richard Pitino, who has the Lobos (19-4) ranked No. 25 in this week’s AP poll.
“I personally want him to stay at New Mexico,” Pitino replied. “I want him to stay at New Mexico until I leave St. John’s and he can take my place then.”
The 71-year-old Hall of Famer was hired to pilot the Red Storm last March on a six-year contract. Richard Pitino, who did two stints as an assistant on his father’s teams at Louisville, is in his third season at New Mexico and the Lobos look improved from the club that won 22 games a year ago and made the NIT. He spent eight seasons at Minnesota before that. His teams were 141-123 over that time, reached a pair of NCAA Tournaments and won an NIT title.
“I’ll say this about my son because he was my assistant coach – most fathers will brag about their sons, but I’ll brag about the assistant coach I had – Richard was responsible for one Final Four,” Pitino said. “Without him, we wouldn’t have gotten there.
“Richard is one of the bright minds in the game today,” he added. “ He’s a great coach, he’s a great communicator.”
DePaul’s finest years were under Hall of Famer Ray Meyer, who twice led it to Final Fours and continued to be a Big Dance regular when he was replaced by his son, Joey Meyer. DePaul has made just two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 25 years, last in 2004.
“DePaul has the potential to be a great job. It really does,” Pitino said of the Chicago-based school. “I'm a little puzzled, to be honest with you, why it's not better. Great recruiting market. Great city. Beautiful campus. Largest Catholic school in America. So they just have to hire the right person and it will turn around, no different than Georgetown under Ed Cooley. You can put it down, you can bet your life on this: it’s going to turn around big [if] they hire an Ed Cooley-type guy. I just don't want it to be my son.”
But Pitino did not suggest that he has any influence over what his son – or St. John’s - will do in the future.
“The one thing I can tell you about my son, Richard: I have no say in what he does,” Pitino said. “I did when he was my assistant coach. He’s his own man. So if he wants to go to DePaul, or any place else, that’s going to be his call.”
Big arena, small crowd
One of Pitino’s goals from the outset was to play as many games at major arenas as possible. In his first months as head coach, he told Newsday “what we’re building doesn’t fit” in the on-campus venue, Carnesecca Arena. But after drawing 7,486 at UBS Arena for the Hofstra win on Dec. 30 and a meager 6,035 Tuesday night for the DePaul game, it’s less clear how the Islanders' home is going to fit into the Red Storm’s future plans. The Feb. 18 game against Seton Hall may prove a better measure of what it could be.
Asked about the sparse crowd, Pitino first joked the number was depressed because they were giving away a bobblehead with his likeness and then said, “This is on me – I just misread things.”
“[First], I didn’t know Carnesecca [Arena] was as strong a homecourt as it was because I didn’t remember that from 1987,” Pitino said, referencing games he coached there with Providence. “And two, I thought we would get 10,000, 13,000, 14,000 people. I thought we would get a good Long Island crowd. This is a really good place. But look, fans can watch the Knicks . . . . [and] this is against the last-place team. It's not that they don't want to support us . . . I don't blame the fans.”
Bringing Wilcher along slowly
Freshman Simeon Wilcher had eight points including two three-pointers in 12 minutes against DePaul after playing only three minutes in last week’s two games. Pitino said he’s favored giving playing time to Daniss Jenkins, Jordan Dingle and Nahiem Alleyne ahead of Wilcher and added, “They’re all leaving and he’s going to be a starter next year, so he’s been okay with it.”
In fact, the lack of playing time hasn't concerned Wilcher at all.
"I'm not really worried about how much I am playing right now," Wilcher said in a Nov. 25 interview after a win over Holy Cross. "[Pitino] knows better than anyone, so I'm just trusting him."