He was charming. It was ridiculous. He was honest.
More than anything else, though, Rick Pitino was confident he bordered on strangers — confident that St. John’s will return to national relevance and restore pride to a program that has been stuck in the college basketball wilderness for more than two decades.
The Hall of Fame coach hit the right notes during his introductory press conference at the Garden on Tuesday and gave fans reason to believe the Johnnies would be a consistent winner at age 70.
“It’s not going to be hard,” Pitino said, even though the Queens school has been making it look like it’s been two decades. “There is no difference between St. John’s Connecticut, St. John’s Marquette, St. Among John’s Xavier. San Juan is one of the legendary names in college basketball. Has he fallen on hard times? Yeah, yeah, but now we’re ready to roll on the good times.
“Raise this roof, because San Juan will return, I guarantee that.”
It’s been a long time since that was the case.
Rick Pitino shakes hands during his introductory press conference on Tuesday.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
The Johnnies last won an NCAA Tournament game in 2000. In 2015, they reached the main dance draw for the last time.
They haven’t advanced to the Big East Tournament finals in 23 years. Pitino, 70, plans to change all that after leaving Iona after three successful seasons at St. John’s.
The first day at work was a success for him.
He has already convinced star Joel Soriano to join St. John’s.
The legendary coach was incredibly honest about the roster, saying there would be big changes.
He plans to bring in eight new players, which means several current players will be let go.
The only other player who secured a return is little-used striker Drissa Traore.
Pitino did not receive positive reviews from many players.
“There are some players who will fit in with me, some players who won’t fit in,” said Pitino, a two-time national champion who has coached in seven Final Fours and is .710 (711-290) in his career. Winning percentage in 35 seasons. “I know Joel fits into what I’m doing, I know (Traore) fits into the style of play and the character I need. Some players won’t get in and shouldn’t play for me. They should go somewhere else and adapt.”
Pitino brought his entire coaching staff from Iona to St. He is bringing in John and plans to keep Van Macon as associate head coach.
Rick Pitino commands the room during his introductory press conference on Tuesday.AP
He’ll talk to everyone in the program over the next few days, which includes recruits Brandon Gardner, Yaxel Lendeborg and Harrison Reede.
Gardner, a four-star, top-100 recruit from Christ the King in Queens, plans to remain committed to St. John’s until he reunites with Pitino, his mother Tameka Gordon told The Post.
The staff will work on the transfer front, and Iona star Walter Clayton Jr. and may choose to bring Nelly Junior Joseph, both of whom entered the fold on Tuesday.
“We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to hit them hard,” said Pitino, who agreed to a six-year contract worth a total of $20 million, according to sources.
The excitement of renting is already through the roof.
Athletic Director Mike Cragg told The Post that season ticket sales deposits were up 20 percent.
Pitino plans to significantly increase the number of games San Juan plays at the Garden, saying Carnesecca Arena will be too small as the brand grows.
The press conference was rarely seen with national reporters and television cameras covering the events in San Juan.
There, 98-year-old Lou Carneseeca became the all-time leading scorer in Red Storm history.
Posters of Pitino went up in Times Square.
Rick PitinoCharles Wenzelberg / New York Post
“It’s everything,” Cragg said. “Rick is a winner at every level, and he has big ambitions. As you know, I have big ambitions. (St. John’s President Rev. Brian) Shanley has big ambitions. We will do it”.
This press conference had similar tones to Chris Mullin’s presentation eight years ago, as there were hopes of a return to the glory days of the program led by an icon.
There were major differences, however.
Mullin had never coached, and his enthusiasm for recruiting was based on learning to do so.
Pitino doesn’t necessarily have to learn anything about coaching.
He has won everywhere and created programs in a hurry.
He hopes to do the same here.
“It’s not about when or when it will happen in St. John’s,” said Pitino, “and it will happen in a big way.”