Friday, February 12, 2010

A Sort Of Homecoming

After his Louisville Cardinals fell to St. John's last night, head coach Rick Pitino was asked about potentially leaving to coach the New Jersey Nets. In another subplot, Pitino has also been mentioned as a potential hire for the Johnnies should Norm Roberts not return. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times)

The boy from New York has been around many cities and states in his day, from coaching stints at Boston University and Providence to the NBA's New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, only to return to the college ranks at Kentucky and Louisville, taking the Wildcats to a national championship in 1996. Lately, there has been talk of the Rick Pitino express making another stop, perhaps in the New York metropolitan area where the 57-year-old coaching icon was born and raised.

Currently in his ninth season as head coach of Louisville, who lost to St. John's at Madison Square Garden last night by the final of 74-55, Pitino's name has been mentioned by both SNY and the New York Daily News as a candidate for the New Jersey Nets job. Pitino vehemently denied rumors of his return to the NBA on several occasions during last night's postgame press conference and Big East coaches' conference call, stating that the rumors had "just zero truth" to them, even asking why people would print such a story. The coach later poked fun at the situation when told of the Bergen Record's report that Duke head man Mike Krzyzewski was the first choice for the gig. "He would be a great choice, great choice. Matter of fact, I'm gonna call his recruits tonight," quipped Pitino.

However, it's not just Jersey that could be rolling out the welcome mat for Pitino. The Bergen Record's Ian O'Connor has also reported that legendary former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca may use his already powerful clout to lure Pitino to Queens in the event that Norm Roberts, who has been at the helm of the Johnnies for the last six seasons, is not asked to return. In fact, a source close to the situation told O'Connor that he would be "shocked" if Pitino was coaching Louisville in 2010-11.

Let's look at the Pitino to St. John's move for a bit. Along with John Calipari, the Brooklyn-born Pitino is probably one of a scant few coaches in Division I college basketball that would make St. John's nationally relevant before the Johnnies even contested an opening tip. Pitino already has a strong history of getting New York-area high school players to commit to his programs, including Francisco Garcia and Edgar Sosa at Louisville, and the Johnnies have clearly fallen behind in the city landscape over the last few years. Moreover, Pitino has voiced his distress over the sex scandal which implicated him during the offseason, and a move to another program could give him a fresh start. Even though St. John's is a Catholic institution, it is unfortunately no stranger to scandal, as the team fought through a 2003 season that featured the infamous incident in Pittsburgh that cost head coach Mike Jarvis his job and saw several players dismissed from the team. That is still seen in some circles as a blow from which the program has yet to recover.

If Pitino ultimately decides against returning to the Big Apple, either to St. John's or the Nets, both teams have already looked at other candidates. In fact, former St. John's and New York Knicks standout Mark Jackson (who, ironically enough, played for Pitino in his early years with the Knicks) has been mentioned as a potential hire for the Johnnies if Roberts is not retained by president Rev. Donald Harrington and athletic director Chris Monasch. Another interesting name that may (and should) pop up could be Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, who is on the verge of taking the Shockers to the NCAA Tournament, a level he has already succeeded at while at Winthrop. However, if St. John's, which just celebrated the 25th anniversary of its 1985 Final Four team that included the likes of Jackson, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry, along with Coach Carnesecca, want to take the step forward that it so desperately needs to take to become a major player on the national landscape again, it only takes one name. In fact, the immortal Carnesecca even said it in a pregame reception honoring the '85 Johnnies. "Maybe one guy can turn it around. One guy to ignite this thing and turn it around."

Rick Pitino is that guy, and his resume speaks for itself.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Orange On Their Way To Squeezing 1 Seed

Already in favor of expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams, Jim Boeheim could have something else to exult about, as his second-ranked Syracuse team is 24-1 and on their way to securing a No. 1 seed in this year's edition of March Madness. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

He has a list of accolades that few colleagues can match: Over 800 career wins, a national championship, a Who's Who of NBA superstars such as Carmelo Anthony and Jonny Flynn; not to mention an Olympic gold medal as an assistant coach for Team USA in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Then there's the statistic that no other college coach possesses, an unprecedented thirty-two 20 win seasons, all consecutive. So, what else does Jim Boeheim need to add to an already impressive resume, one that saw him inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Many college basketball analysts would argue that the 65-year-old Boeheim can retire today, and his legacy at Syracuse University would enable him to go down in history as one of the greatest and most talented people to grace a sideline on the hardwood. However, the legend of upstate New York isn't riding off into the sunset just yet. Boeheim's Orange team is in the midst of their best start in program history, a 24-1 record that has catapulted Syracuse to the second spot in both the AP and coaches' polls. Not bad for a team that lost its three best players (Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris) this past offseason.

After a 72-67 home win against UConn at the Carrier Dome last night, the Orange welcome Rick Pitino and Louisville into the Dome on Sunday with a No. 1 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament right within their reach. Led by Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson, who is a candidate for the National Player of the Year award, the Orange are one of the most complete teams in the country with their 2-3 zone featuring Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson up front. Throw in a starting backcourt that can shoot the lights out of any arena in senior Andy Rautins and freshman Brandon Triche, along with a bench led by Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, and you could be looking at a team playing for another national title in Indianapolis.