On the first day of the Rick Pitino era of St. John’s basketball the priorities were recruiting, reshaping the roster for the 2023-24 season and seeing what is possible for the non-conference portion of the schedule for next season.
In a phone interview Wednesday night, Pitino also said that freshman guard AJ Storr was one of the few current players he would like to return for the 2023-24 season.
When he was introduced on Tuesday as the Red Storm’s new coach, the Hall of Famer said that the primary directive would be “get players” and that he and his coaching staff would “hit the streets and hit them hard.”
To that end they attended practice at state Catholic boys basketball champion Archbishop Stepinac (White Plains) where highly sought after 6-3 guard Johnuel “Boogie” Fland, considered one of the 10 best players in the junior class, plays. According to a published report, St. John’s also made an offer to Tennessee junior guard Ahmad Nowell, who plays for Imhotep (Pa.) High.
“In the morning we did all the paperwork so everyone could go on the road, in the afternoon we went recruiting and I’ve spent the night calling [prospective] players,” Pitino said.
Bringing in players from the transfer portal is going to be important. One could be Walter Clayton Jr., who starred for Pitino this past season at Iona, was the MAAC Player of the Year and entered the portal Tuesday.
“I told all the [Iona] guys to stay together, but it is up to them,” Pitino said. “Walt is in [the portal] and I know he is visiting Florida and I am sure he’ll make his way to Queens for a conversation. Whether he comes to St. John’s? I don’t know.”
Pitino added that the recruiting effort included assistant coaches, making contact with coach John Buck of Long Island Lutheran, one of the nation’s top teams, and said, “We are looking at some of their players down the road.”
As for the current players, Pitino said, “I’ve already talked to the ones that I want to return and I’ve got a couple more to do. There’s only probably three or four guys that I want to return. The other guys, they need to get themselves into portal and get themselves to a school that they can play at.”
Storr, along with Joel Soriano and Drissa Traore, have been asked to return. Storr averaged 8.8 points and shot 40.4% on three pointers in 21.1 minutes per game this season.
Sophomore Rafael Pinzon entered the portal on Wednesday. He thanked his coaches, teammates and the fans in a social media post that concluded “I have decided to enter the transfer portal and find a new place to call home.”
Pinzon averaged 6.1 points in 15.7 minutes in 19 games this season but was suspended for the final seven games.
With an eye toward the 2023-24 schedule, St. John’s AD Mike Cragg met Wednesday with Garden officials. “We have five or six non-conference games that we can [schedule] and that will be done strategically together with the Garden,” Cragg said. “What I am working on today is the dates the Garden could be booked.”
Cragg also said that since Pitino was hired, deposits for season tickets have gone up 20% and called it “a significant number.”