Since Rick Pitino was introduced as the new St. John’s basketball coach with a guarantee to restore the Red Storm to national prominence, he has felt New York’s warm embrace. So it was again on Tuesday night when he was asked to perform the coveted first pitch before the first Subway Series game of the season and greeted with applause before throwing from the top of the mound to catcher-for-a-day Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell, who played for him at Louisville.
Pitino is a longtime baseball fan and declared himself a fan of “both teams,” but donned a St. John’s uniform with the No. 7 as hat-tip to Mickey Mantle, suggesting that he might have grown up on Long Island rooting for the Yankees.
As for the pitch? A generous description would be ‘low and inside,’
In the 12 weeks since issuing his guarantee, Pitino and his staff have been incredibly active, remaking almost the entire St. John’s roster and generating an anticipation for the 2023-24 season that even he can feel.
“Anytime you bring in 13 new players — and a lot of them are highly rated — there’s going to be excitement,” Pitino said. “The schedule is exciting (and) we expect to be extremely competitive. Now we just got to mesh 15 new players together.”
Pitino also said he and his staff are not done recruiting for the coming season. It seemed like St. John’s already was out of scholarships before Roselle Catholic (N.J.) guard Simeon Wilcher — a former North Carolina commit — decided Monday to join the Storm.
“I’d signed six players in a year,” Pitino said. “Now it's a lot to sign 13 and we're probably not even done yet — it’s almost three years of work into one. And now it's different, totally different because in the NIL. We are now professional basketball. We're not amateur basketball anymore.”
“We're just always on the market to improve the team,” he added. “I'm always going to be that way. I'm looking at the European market right now to see what's available. We'll see from there. It's not many. If I take one more, that'll be it.”
Pitino also described a pair of philosophies he is using to bring St. John’s up to speed.
In recruiting he sought three attributes. “One is very strong work ethic, two is a great athlete and three is a great shooter,” he said. “If one was missing out of those three, we didn't take them.”
And he plans to lean heavily on the most experienced players in this first season. He pointed out the six fifth-year players on the roster and said “I wanted to be old. If you're going to come out strong, you've got to deal with upperclassmen.”
Asked if there were any locks for his starting five, he mentioned Storm captain Joel Soriano, Penn transfer Jordan Dingle and Iona transfer Daniss Jenkins, his point guard with the Gaels last year who would come upon completing his degree in summer school.”
Pitino also said that in his second season, he envisions playing eight of 10 Big East home games at the Garden, then would participate in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship early season tournament in the Bahamas.
In a question about Pitino restoring St. John’s, Mets manager Buck Showalter reminisced about the Storm program when he was Yankees manager.
“There was a brand of basketball that was played there. They played on both ends of the court and they were expected (to win),” he replied. “When you thought of St. John’s basketball, they didn’t have to ask ‘who are we?’ (with) the way they played. And I’m sure that is what Rick is talking about."