Iona head coach Rick Pitino reacts in the second half...

Iona head coach Rick Pitino reacts in the second half against the Connecticut Huskies during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at MVP Arena on Friday in Albany, N.Y. Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

ALBANY — Communication between St. John’s and Rick Pitino about the Red Storm’s open coaching position is expected to heat up this weekend. The school administration can best help its effort by showing a resounding commitment to winning.

“How St. John’s handles this will determine a lot of what happens,” a source close to Pitino said. “It’s going to be the commitment to winning more than anything else, even money. He wants to hear that.”

St. John’s seeks to return to the place of national prominence it held before a quarter-century slide toward irrelevance. The Red Storm haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000, and their only appearance in The Big Dance was in 2019, when Chris Mullin guided them to a First Four appearance in his final season.

The school announced it was moving on from Mike Anderson on March 10 after his teams missed the tournament for four straight years.

Pitino led rebuilds at Kentucky and Louisville, taking each fallen program back to prominence and to national championship game victories. On Thursday, he said the same is possible for St. John’s.

He just guided Iona to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his three seasons there (the 13th-seeded Gaels lost to No. 4 UConn on Friday night). Pitino was asked afterward about his future, acknowledged he was being asked about St. John’s and said, “I have really no idea what the future may bring because I’ve got to look at the grand scheme of things about winning, and winning is very important.”

Pitino also said he knows little about present-day St. John’s and that his last memory of the campus was from a game he coached with Providence in 1987. 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.”

It’s unlikely that Pitino literally would go to campus and check out the facilities, as his presence would inevitably leak. When Anderson was hired, all of the negotiations that athletic director Mike Cragg arranged were away from campus.

Pitino has spoken with St. John’s president Rev. Brian Shanley, so there is some familiarity. Pitino said that when Shanley was president at Providence, he tried to coax Pitino to leave Louisville for a second stint with the Friars.

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