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St. John's booster Mike Repole rips university president, VP for state of men's basketball program

Entrepreneur says school didn't offer enough money to lure Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley and isn't pursuing Iona's Tim Cluess strongly enough.

Long Island's Mike Repole at Churchill Downs.

Long Island's Mike Repole at Churchill Downs. Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed McNamara

Multimillionaire entrepreneur and longtime St. John’s booster Mike Repole strongly denounced university president Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw and vice president Joe Oliva for the state of the men’s basketball program, which has had two candidates turn down an offer to coach the team since Chris Mullin stepped down April 9.

“‘This is not a New York laughingstock anymore,” Repole said Wednesday in an interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN. “We are now a national embarrassment. If you thought Chris Mullin’s 1-15 year [2015-16 in the Big East] was bad, next year’s going to be 0-16. We may not suit up next year. Maybe take a pass.’’

Repole, a 1991 graduate who owns thoroughbred horses under Repole Stable, has long been a financial supporter of athletics at St. John’s. He believes Mullin did not get the support he needed to be successful. Repole also is incensed that athletic director Mike Cragg, whom he praised and predicted will leave for a new job, was not given the go-ahead to offer enough money to coaching candidate Bobby Hurley and has not strongly pursued Iona’s Tim Cluess.

“St. John’s is his dream job, at every single level this guy is a winner,’’ Repole said of Cluess, who grew up on Long Island. “Iona has been to more NCAA Tournaments in the last 20 years than St. John’s. Think about that. He would walk from New Rochelle to Queens tomorrow.’’

On missing out on Arizona State’s Hurley, Repole said: “[They] decided to get cheap. Don’t tell me Bobby Hurley -- his parents live in New Jersey, his wife’s parents live in New Jersey, he makes 2.5 million dollars a year. Could you tell Mike Cragg [to] go offer Bobby Hurley $2 million dollars? You go there and you say get Bobby Hurley, I don’t care if it costs you $3 million, $3.5 or $4 million ... Do you think he wants to coach at the Garden with his parents there, with his in-laws there?

“Bobby [Gempesaw] as a president, Oliva as a sidekick, Bill Collins, the chairman over there, these guys are incompetent, clueless leaders.’’

Repole said of Oliva: “If you show him a basketball and football, he’s got a 50-50 shot of getting which one is which.’’

Repole also excoriated the board of trustees, saying: “This is negligence, this is a private university with like a little men’s club and they think they’re just going to be able to get away with it because there’s really no oversight. No oversight, we can do whatever we want ... They’re running the university just as bad as they’re running the athletic department.

“St. John’s has a very weak board, a bunch of yes men and puppets that like to talk … When it’s a board meeting when they have to make real decisions, they go very silent. I think we need a president search first. You’ve got to get a new president in there.

“It’s not fixable with the current senior leadership. Bobby [Gempesaw], look, I don’t want to put any pressure on him to resign. I’ll give him ‘til Friday. I think he’s got to go by Friday. If they need money to pay out a severance package, I’ll pay him his lifetime to get away from St. John’s. And this Joe Oliva, he’s got to go. Spineless board members, either you got to resign from the board or jump in our camp.’’

Cragg said in a text to Newsday that he did not hear the Repole interview. Oliva and executive director for university relations Brian Browne did not respond to requests for comment.

Yale’s Jones a possibility. Yale coach James Jones, who attended Half Hollow Hills West High School, reportedly is a St. John’s candidate. Mike Boynton of Oklahoma State also is said to be in the mix. Neither has responded to calls from Newsday.

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