San Juan awaits with open arms as Rick Pitino illuminates the future

ALBANY — Rick Pitino has given Iona an up-close-and-personal look at how a Hall of Fame coach can impact a program through the sheer force of his personality and basketball genius.

He has been the right man at the right time for Iona, just as Iona has been the right school and the right job at the right time.

A basketball utopia for the Gaels at a time when they needed another in a long line of winning coaches, and a basketball utopia for Pitino at a time when he needed a team of his life, another chance after all the turmoil of the NCAA, albeit often a utopia. March ends in the blink of an eye and on Friday forced Dan Hurley and Connecticut to walk over to congratulate them on their 87-63 victory over Iona in the first round of the West Regional at MVP Arena.

Now what for Rick Pitino?

“I really have no idea what the future holds,” Pitino said.

It wasn’t like Lou Carnesecca was waiting outside MVP Arena to be taken to a certain college on Utopia Parkway, where a fan desperately searching for a savior awaits his dream with open arms.

the king of queens

St. Because John’s hasn’t had a Hall of Fame coach since … Lou Carnesecca.

Rick Pitino reacts with excitement during the second half of Iona’s 87-63 loss to UConn.Getty Images

Almost everyone agrees it will be a match made in heaven, with the New Yawk Native Son returning to another Big East that he cherished when he coached in Providence for two seasons, but a Big East nonetheless, back at UConn.

So when the clock on the scoreboard hit zero, Saint John was officially on the clock waiting for Saint Rick.

Praying for Red Storm Rising.

“I don’t know if it’s right for me, another job, I don’t know that,” Pitino said.

St. He told The Post he would have to research John’s to decide if it’s the right job for him.

“You don’t buy houses without looking at the garage and the upstairs and the kitchen and everything,” Pitino said. “You don’t buy a house.”

But sometimes the house buys you.

Roll out the red carpet, folks.

Pitino knew what he was up against Friday, a program rebuilt by Hurley with Final Four aspirations. A deep team that had Iona on the glass (45-29).

Not immediately.

The Gaels played fearlessly, they played to win, and that reminded everyone inside MVP Arena, especially the shell-shocked Huskies fans, why Pitino, a national champion at Kentucky and Louisville, is the 70-year-old Secretary of his sport.

Rick PitinoRick PitinoGetty Images

Applauded, encouraged, inspired, even angered by Pitino when the moment called for it, he bent over backwards to play defense with his players as few men his age can.

They were playing a great game they should have played against UConn, the author of a great Hall of Fame coach. The best half of the year. The small Iona contingent across from the Gaels’ bench was screaming as Pitino entered the locker room at halftime with the score 39-37.

Oh, it’s a 40-minute game.

Goliath ripped Pitino mercilessly with his devastating defense and unique pride and crushed him, and Bill Murray, jokingly, danced in the stands (his son, Luke, is an assistant at UConn). Jordan Hawkins — 0-6 in the first half — howled early in the second half to spark the Huskies and finish with 13 points, and big man Adama Sanogo. an unstoppable beast inside (22 of his season-high 28 points in the second half, 13 rebounds), the Huskies led the rest of the way and took away the last vestiges of hope from the Gaels…who played their worst half of the year. .

Players for 13th-ranked Iona answered questions about Pitino moving on. All they cared about was impressing UConn and making history for a school that was officially 0-15 in the NCAA Tournament.

But there they were after their record dropped to 0-16, facing the worst of the March Sadness: the end of a dream and not knowing if the Hall of Fame coach they respected would ever coach again.

“The level of excellence goes through the roof every day,” Daniss Jenkins said. “If you want to be challenged, if you want to be a great player, this is the coach you want to play for.”

How devastating would it be if he left for school?

“I think it’s going to be pretty devastating,” Jenkins said, “but that’s life.”

Red Storm Rising praying…for the King of Queens of their dreams.

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