Iona head coach Rick Pitino is visiting St. John's about...

Iona head coach Rick Pitino is visiting St. John's about its coaching vacancy. Credit: TNS/Rob Carr

ALBANY — St. John’s courting of Rick Pitino to become its new men’s basketball coach entered a new stage on Sunday with a campus visit and a scheduled evening meeting with top school administrators.

University administrators took measures to keep campus athletic facilities as empty as possible for the Hall of Fame coach to tour them, which he did during the afternoon, according to two sources familiar with the visit.

There was an evening face-to-face meeting in which St. John’s president Rev. Brian Shanley and Pitino had an opportunity to discuss the position.

“[Pitino] always does his due diligence,” the source said.

Sunday’s events suggest that Pitino not only is the first choice for St. John’s but that St. John’s is the likely first choice of Pitino, who was born in Manhattan and grew up on Long Island.

Texas Tech reportedly already has shown interest in Pitino and Providence might if current coach Ed Cooley departs for the opening at Georgetown. Pitino already coached Providence for three seasons in the 1980s and took the school to the 1987 Final Four. Shanley attempted to coax Pitino from Louisville for a second stint with the Friars when he was PC president.

St. John’s has been keen on installing Pitino at the helm since even before its March 10 announcement that it was moving on from Mike Anderson. Shanley would like to see St. John’s return to the prominence it held more than two decades ago, and Pitino has a track record for reclamation projects. In the past nine years, the Red Storm have made one appearance in the First Four and missed the NCAAs eight times.

At both Kentucky and Louisville, Pitino took once-great programs, got them back to the Final Four in four seasons and ultimately guided them to national championships.

Pitino just completed his third season at Iona, taking the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three seasons.

That Pitino might want to see St. John’s facilities should not come as a surprise. When asked about the rumors of a move to the Red Storm on Thursday before playing and losing to Connecticut on Friday, he said he knows little about present-day St. John’s.

Then he added, “You don’t buy houses without looking at the garage and the upstairs and the kitchen and everything. You don’t just buy a house.”

Asked about rebuilding programs, Pitino said Thursday, “There’s one common denominator in every job I’ve taken over: poor facilities [and] poor culture. Kentucky was awful. They didn’t have a weight room . . . Louisville, the same thing. They didn’t have a practice facility.”

St. John’s has made modest renovations to Carnesecca Arena, the least desirable venue in the Big East, but also plays home games at Madison Square Garden, the most desirable. The Red Storm have had some sparse crowds or as many spectators rooting for their opponent in recent years at the Garden. A Pitino-led Storm would be a much bigger draw and likely would play more Garden dates.

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