Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Rick Pitino breaks down St. John’s roster: ‘Getting 10 players is one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done’
By ADAM ZAGORIANEW YORK — Rick Pitino took a break from the whirlwind that is St. John’s recruiting on Tuesday to attend the BTIG Charity Day in Manhattan.
Pitino shook hands and exchanged words with the traders in midtown Manhattan as he made the rounds. He was among a Who’s Who of celebrities who supported a variety of charities, including former President Bill Clinton, Lawrence Taylor, Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, Aaron Boone, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Mark Messier, Henrik Lundqvist, John Calipari, Dan Hurley, Tobin Anderson, Hank Azaria, Patrick Dempsey, Hannah Storm, Robin Roberts and Chuck Scarborough.
“I spent a lot of time with [President Clinton] at the White House,” Pitino said. “We were just talking [Tuesday], he said some really nice things.”
Shortly after his appearance at BTIG, Pitino picked up a commitment from Class of 2023 small forward Brady Dunlap, a former Notre Dame recruit ranked a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com. Dunlap also considered Villanova, North Carolina, Nebraska and Penn State.
Dunlap’s commitment followed that of Oregon State transfer Glenn Taylor Jr. on Monday.
Pitino and his staff have now added six transfers — Taylor, Nahiem Alleyne(UConn), Sean Conway (VMI), Daniss Jenkins (Iona), Cruz Davis (Iona) and Quinn Slazinski (Iona) — along with Dunlap.
“We need three players,” he said. “We need another guard, we need a big-time scoring guard, we need a power forward and we need a backup center.
“Once we do that, it’ll be over.”
Pitino has won two NCAA championships at two different schools and taken three schools to the Final Four, but he’s never overhauled a roster this drastically.
“Getting 10 players is one of the more difficult things I’ve ever seen,” he said
At his introductory press conference, Pitino vowed to overhaul the roster and said he would center the roster around returning big man Joel Soriano.
Pitino is high on the 6-foot-6 Taylor, who averaged 11.6 points. 3.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists last season.
“Well, he’s very good off the bounce,” Pitino said. “He gets to the rim. He goes to the line a lot and he shoots 80% from the free throw line. He’s a terrific defensive player and I think he fits into not only our style of play but the Big East very well.”
Pitino also brings in three former Iona guys in Jenkins, Davis and Slazinski.
“It was crucial because trying to bring in 12-13 new players in this system is very difficult,” Pitino said.
The 6-4 Jenkins, who helped key Iona’s MAAC regular-season and tournament titles, was the first transfer to commit on April 13.
“We’ve got to get four terrific backcourt players and we’ve got three right now,” Pitino said, referring to Jenkins, Davis and Alleyne. “We’ve gotta get one more.”
The 6-4 Alleyne averaged 5.2 points while shooting 36% overall and 31% from deep for reigning national champion UConn.
“He’s a terrific basketball player, I mean he can play two positions,” Pitino said. “He’s tough, gets to the rim, can shoot it.
“He’s got great experience with Virginia Tech as well as Connecticut. He won a national championship so the pressure’s not going to get to him.”
St. John’s remains involved for Iona transfer Sadiku Ayo and Penn transfer Jordan Dingle, as well as five-star Class of 2023 wing Mackenzie Mgbako, who has visited St. John’s and Kansas and heads to Indiana Friday and will also see Louisville.
One source said Mgbako had a “great visit” but it remains unclear where he’ll land.
Pitino spoke with new Iona coach Tobin Anderson about a potential St. John’s-Iona game at Madison Square Garden starting in 2024-25.
“Iona’s always tried to get into the Garden and couldn’t do it,” Pitino said. “We’re playing Fordham now [Dec. 16] and if Iona continues to get great crowds, I think it would be great for them.”
The Johnnies are expecting to play 8-9 games at the Garden, including the Gavitt Games and at least half a dozen Big East games, AD Mike Cragg told ZAGSBLOG.
“The schedule’s great, there’s no room to breathe,” Pitino said, “so we just gotta be ready for it.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.