Providence coach Rick Pitino stands between players Billy Donovan, left, and...

Providence coach Rick Pitino stands between players Billy Donovan, left, and Delray Brooks in the Southeast Regional semifinal game on March 19, 1987. Credit: Rob Kozloff

Shortly before Rick Pitino was introduced as St. John’s coach at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Lou Lamoriello was in his office at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow reminiscing about his former employee, longtime friend and, yes, Islanders season-ticket holder.

“I think it’s great,” Lamoriello told Newsday. “I know he’ll do a great job.”

Lamoriello, then the Providence athletic director, hired Pitino to turn around the Big East school’s basketball fortunes in 1985. They both left in 1987 after a trip to the Final Four, Pitino to coach the Knicks and Lamoriello to run the Devils. Despite their disparate career arcs, the two have kept in close touch.

“He was at the game [against the Penguins on March 9],” said Lamoriello, adding he would have attended Iona’s NCAA Tournament game on Friday had he not been in San Jose, California, with the Islanders. “And I spoke to him as recently as yesterday morning.

“He demands a lot. [The players] are receptive and if they don’t want to be a part of it, they won’t be. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best player or maybe the seventh, eighth or ninth player. He’s going to treat them all the same. They’ll all get the chance. I experienced that by watching him coach.”

At his introductory news conference Pitino said "my first call" after accepting the St. John's job was to Lamoriello.

"Lou is one of my mentors in life," Pitino said. "Love the man."

The Providence ties remain strong. St. John’s president Rev. Brian J. Shanley previously served 15 years as Providence’s president.

“I know Father Shanley,” Lamoriello said. “Father Shanley’s father was Duffy and Shanley advertising agency and they were the ones who created the logos and marketing for the Big East and Hockey East.

“Father Shanley is just a great human being. I’m not surprised he got Rick. He resurrected the basketball program and the hockey program at Providence College when he was there. It’s a perfect marriage. Rick is excited and he’ll do a great job. He can flat-out coach. He can recruit and he cares about the players. When we were at Providence, every one of his players graduated.”

Lamoriello, the longtime Providence hockey coach, took on the additional role of athletic director in 1982. Three years later when he looked to hire a basketball coach, Lamoriello said he wanted somebody who “wouldn’t be intimidated” by Big East titans such as St. John’s Lou Carnesecca, Georgetown’s John Thompson or Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.

“I knew of his background, I knew of his recruiting talents,” Lamoriello said. “The person who recommended him as strong as ever was the coach of the Knicks at that time [Hubie Brown]. Rick was an assistant coach of the Knicks. I actually met him in New York City after a game, almost in the middle of the night. He visited the college. I believed he could do it, just the way he spoke and what he did.”

Back in 2017 when he was coaching Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, Pitino said the advice he received from Knicks legends Dick McGuire and Fuzzy Levane was not to take the Providence job.

But Pitino said Lamoriello quickly convinced him otherwise.

“He patronized me for one sentence and I took the job without talking contract or money,” Pitino said.

Pitino has since coached the Knicks, Kentucky, the Celtics, Louisville, in Greece and Iona before being hired by St. John’s.

“We spent a lot of time, there were some things that we got pretty close,” Lamoriello said. “The relationship stayed whether he was in Kentucky, Louisville and even when he was in Europe. And as soon as he came here to New York, to Iona, we were out to dinner. That relationship will never leave.”

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