Rick Pitino deflects on St. John’s rumors after Iona reaches March Madness

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Rick Pitino didn’t say he was interested in the vacant San Juan job, but he didn’t say he wasn’t either.

Amid reports linking the two parties Friday, after St. John’s coach Mike Anderson was fired, Pitino was asked Saturday night about his interest in the Queens school.

“My interest is in my team. I’m so grateful to Iona University,” Pitino, 70, said after his Gaels punched their NCAA Tournament ticket with a stunning 76-55 victory over Marist in the MAAC Championship title game at Boardwalk Hall.

Pitino speculated that the rumors surfaced because he and current St. John’s president the Rev. Brian Shanley worked at Providence College in the past.

Rick Pitino in Iona’s MAAC Championship win over Marist on March 11, 2023.AP

“But you have to understand one thing: The biggest factor in my life is winning,” Pitino said. “More than the Big East, more than anything. Winning is the most important thing in my life. We are 35-6 in two years in the league —35-6. … If I were ever to change, I would have to firmly believe that the job I take, wherever it is, can win like Iona, and I’m not sure there are (many) of them”.

When asked if San Juan is able to win like this, Pitino answered: “I haven’t thought about it yet, because all I’m thinking about is taking these guys to where they want to go.”

When Shanley was president of Providence, he nearly hired Pitino to return as the Friars’ coach 12 years ago, before choosing Ed Cooley after Pitino’s time at Louisville, according to sources. Pitino was the Friars’ coach from 1985-87.

Iona celebrates after winning the MAAC championship that punched its ticket to March Madness 2023.Iona celebrates after winning the MAAC championship that punched its ticket to March Madness 2023.AP

Texas Tech has also expressed strong interest in hiring Pitino, sources said, after former coach Mark Adams resigned after being suspended for making a racially insensitive remark. Pitino doesn’t have a buyout, meaning it wouldn’t cost him anything at the next school if he left Iona.

Pitino and Iona president Seamus Carey haven’t discussed the possibility of him leaving, according to Carey, but the MAAC school won’t be blindsided if he chooses to go elsewhere.

“We know he can go,” Carey told The Post.

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