Next year, all eyes will be on Utopia Parkway and Rick Pitino in his first season as head coach of St. John’s basketball. Although Pitino has a difficult road ahead of him to revive a moribund St. John’s program, it’s a dream pairing between coach and school—Pitino is the New York-iest coach in college basketball and St. John’s is the city’s only power conference school. The legendary Pitino has already won the battle of hearts and minds in the New York tabloids (the New York Post is about one good recruit away from endorsing him as mayor) and it should only be a matter of time before that translates to the hardwood. As such, here are three bold predictions for Pitino in his first season at St. John’s.
1. Joel Soriano Will Win Big East Player of the Year
Even amidst St. John’s dysfunction and struggles this season, Soriano was a revelation. As St. Johns’ sole representative on an All-Big East team, Soriano averaged 15.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game on his way to a Second-Team All-Big East appearance. Next year, the former Fordham transfer should be even better; Pitino has already made clear that Soriano will be the Red Storm’s focal point.
“My goal for [Soriano] is something really, really special,” Pitino said at his introductory press conference. “Joel is the type of person I want to build around and that’s why I asked him to come today. … I met with him [Monday] night. I said, ‘You’re a very good basketball player, but you’re going to become a great basketball player, because you have great character, you’re going to have a great work ethic and we’re going to bring you to a level that even you don’t think you can get to. But I need your leadership.’”
If Soriano, who led the nation with 25 double-doubles is only a “very good basketball player” now, the rest of the Big East should shudder at the thought of him becoming a great one.
2. St. John’s Will Dominate the Transfer Portal
At his introductory press conference, Pitino predicted that he would entirely overhaul the St. John’s roster and bring in six to eight new players—outside of Soriano and reserve forward Drissa Traore, he hasn’t guaranteed that any other player from last season will remain with the program. Luckily for Pitino, it’s never been easier to rapidly rebuild a roster. Unsurprisingly, Pitino and St. Johns are the favorite to land Iona transfer Walter Clayton, who was the 2023 MAAC player of the year and emerged as one of the best shooters in the country under Pitino. Outside of Clayton, the Johnnies are also in on former Harvard star Chris Ledlum, a 6’6, 225 pound forward who averaged 18.8 points and 8.5 rebounds last season with the Crimson; Ledlum, a Staten Island native, was a top 100 recruit in 2020 and was heavily recruited by St. John’s in high school before opting for Harvard.
Outside of the portal, St. John’s has also made a late push for Boogie Fland, a five-star guard from White Plains, a city just outside of New York City. While Fland has mostly been linked to bigger schools like Kentucky and Alabama, St Johns has put on the full-court press for the seventh-ranked player in the class of 2024.
3. St. John’s will win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2000
Even in their recent dark period, St. John’s has never been hurting for talent. Despite going just 7-13 in Big East play, the Red Storm had a glut of high-end players, even outside of Soriano—point guard Posh Alexander was the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2021; transfer guards Andre Curbelo and David Jones were both among the most sought after guards in the transfer portal; Big East All-Freshman team guard AJ Storr was a top 100 recruit in 2022. These aren’t bad players as much as they were let down by bad coaching. Luckily, Rick Pitino is one of the best coaches in the country, if not the history of college basketball. At Louisville, Pitino won at least one NCAA Tournament game in 10 of his 16 seasons. Individually, both St. John’s and Rick Pitino have been able to attract high caliber players; together, they should soon be a powerhouse.
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