Rick Pitino rips St. John’s basketball during unfiltered press conference: ‘The most unenjoyable experience I’ve had’

A storm is brewing at St. John’s — and not the good kind. 

Rick Pitino is used to winning. The legendary college basketball coach has two national championships and numerous other conference championships on his resume, including five SEC titles and three Big East championships.

However, it has been far from easy in his first year at the helm of St. John’s, and Pitino let it all out Sunday night.

Rick Pitino press conference

“This has been the most unenjoyable experience I’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” Pitino said after St. John’s loss to Seton Hall on Sunday night. 

The Red Storm dropped its eighth loss in 10 games, blowing a 19-point lead in a 68-62 defeat at the hands of the Pirates. The veteran coach did not hold back his criticism of his team, calling out his players for making “unathletic” plays. 

“If I said I was disappointed, that would be the understatement of the year,” Pitino said. “Our lateral quickness and our toughness is just something I’ve never witnessed in all my years of coaching.

“We are so nonathletic that we can’t guard anybody without fouling … And really it’s not about losing. Even winning, when I watch the film, I see unathletic plays, I see people that don’t handle the ball, that are just interested in taking quick shots. It’s been a disappointing year.”

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Seeing his St. John’s team fail to maintain double digit-leads is not unfamiliar territory for Pitino. The Red Storm blew halftime lead against Providence last week and also fumbled a 15-point advantage against Marquette. This time around, St. John’s were unable to maintain a 12-point halftime lead against Seton Hall, scoring just four points in the opening 12 minutes of the second half. 

While Pitino gave credit to their opponent, he also singled out a couple of players on his own roster. 

“I think the other team makes adjustments and we have to make adjustments to move the basketball and take good shots,” Pitino said. “But we just lack toughness. We just don’t move our feet on defense. They shot 37 free throws. Throw out the stats. You see it every game. The amount of free throws they shoot, the amount of free throws we shoot. Look at what Nahiem [Alleyne] shot on the year. Look at what Chris Ledlum shot on the year.

“You’re a power forward, you played 29 minutes without a free throw. That means you’re not offensive rebounding, you’re not getting to the line. It’s really all the toughness things are why we give up leads … I’ve been disappointed almost every game in this team, with the lack of toughness.”

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The expectations for St. John’s were not exactly high to start this season. After he was hired this summer, Pitino worked the transfer portal to try and upgrade the roster, stating that he “had no choice” in order to improve the personnel. The Red Storm brought in 10 transfers and two freshmen this year, having just two returners from the 2022-23 season.

“We just could take who we could get, who was available, we had no choice,” Pitino said of the transfer portal. “I don’t think we were going to win the first year anyway, because when you rush like that, you don’t see the players. Not a whole lot we can do.

“It’s not the job. You could be at Missouri and recruit slow players. Believe me, it’s not St. John’s. We had to put together a team at the last second. We will never, ever, do that again.”

Pitino even called out the facilities at St. John’s, agreeing that what the university had to offer for its basketball program was “sh—ty.” However, the school and Pitino are “doing something about that.”

It was a strong start to the season for the Red Storm initially. St. John’s got out to a surprising 12-4 record, picking up wins over tough opponents such as Xavier, Villanova and Providence.

However, it’s been a downward spiral since, and the Red Storm run the risk of falling out of contention for an NCAA tournament bid. St. John’s has just five games left on the schedule before the Big East tournament, sitting now at 14-12 with a 6-9 conference record, good for ninth in the Big East.   

“After I spent the summer with them, I knew it was gonna be a difficult year,” Pitino said. “I knew it. I’m hoping we could finish over .500 for the season.”

Pitino was asked about his comments on Monday, the day after his candid press conference following the Seton Hall game. The head coach said he is “fine” with what he said, claiming he did not “rip” anyone. 

“I was pointing out exactly — in a monotone voice — why we lost,” Pitino said. “I am not always calm and certainly not when I rip someone … I was not ripping anybody. I sometimes want my players to hear my words and read my words. That was my intention [Sunday].”

Pitino did clarify his comments about his team’s struggle on defense, giving a more detailed response. 

“I was asked the question, ‘Why do you blow second-half leads?’ And I can tell you sometimes it’s missed free throws at the end of the game and [opponents] make free throws,” Pitino said. “Sometimes, it’s a turnover. Sometimes, it’s bad shot selection that leads to run-outs. It’s not the same reason every time.

“But it’s the same reason every time of why you foul: You foul because you take a bad shot, you get caught in a bad situation defensively, and you are not overly quick laterally. So, when you go to [defend] the basket, rather than beat them to the spot, you foul. That’s what I was trying to point out.”

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Pitino was more apologetic after a win over Georgetown on Wednesday, telling reporters that he told the team he didn’t mean to embarrass them.

“It’s my bad. I’m at fault. I should’ve never mentioned anybody by name,” Pitino said he told his players, explaining that he’s been “very frustrated” at times during the year but admitting that “words matter.”

St. John’s basketball schedule 2024

St. John’s has just five games left in Big East play before the conference tournament. Up next is a matchup against Georgetown, who has just one win over a Big East opponent this year. With that said, Pitino said after the Seton loss that the Hoyas could “definitely beat us.”

Here is St. John’s remaining regular season schedule:

Date Time (ET) Opponent TV
Wed., Feb. 21 7 p.m. at Georgetown FS1
Sun., Feb. 25 12 p.m. vs. No. 17 Creighton CBS
Wed., Feb. 28 8:30 p.m. at Butler CBSSN
Tues., March 5 9 p.m. at DePaul FS1
Sat., March 9 12 p.m. vs. Georgetown Fox

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