Rick Pitino picked right up where he left off in the college basketball ranks, making the NCAA Tournament in his first year with Iona. The Gaels gave No. 2 seed Alabama a real run today, holding a lead with just over 12 minutes left before the Crimson Tide put the clamps on them. Alabama rolled to a 68-55 win.
That doesn’t take away what Pitino accomplished this year. Iona wasn’t exactly a struggling program; his predecessor Tim Cluess led the team to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2016-19, before his retirement. Still to take a team that had serious issues and shutdowns with COVID-19, from the 9-seed in the MAAC Tournament to a pretty competitive game against a No. 2 seeds in the NCAAs, is impressive.
Naturally, there is plenty of speculation that Pitino will return to the ranks of the power programs. One of the sport’s biggest jobs, Indiana, recently opened up. He’s also previously been connected to the UNLV program which is now available.
After today’s game, Pitino tried to shut down speculation. He says that he’s been to the top tier of college basketball, and doesn’t have interest in returning there.
“I’m real excited to be at Iona. It’s a terrific place with great values.”
Rick Pitino talks about his future at Iona after the 1st round loss to Alabama. pic.twitter.com/aqCnV9nyiB
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) March 20, 2021
“When I came back to Iona, I wanted no part of the ‘so called big-time’ anymore. I had enough of that, I wanted to take a small school, like a Providence, like an Iona, and make it big,” Pitino said during the press conference. “I’ve had enough of that. It turned me off, to be quite honest with you, in a lot of different areas. I now don’t have to look over my shoulder to see who I’m gonna trust, who I’m not gonna trust.
“I’m in heaven right now, and where I need to be. It’s what I call ‘A ball, a boy, and a dream,’ like I was when I was 12 years old. It’s terrific to be here. We’re going to be much better next year.”
Pitino even hinted at ramping up the schedule to a place where Iona could even contend for an at-large bid if it fails to win the MAAC, which would be a real accomplishment for a program like the Gaels.
Earlier in the week, he directly shot down any notion that he’d be up for the Indiana job.
“I’m not a candidate for Indiana or any job. You could come to me with the greatest job on Earth and I would not consider it. I came home to coach and end my career at a small Catholic school.”
Iona finished the year 12-6 after today’s NCAA Tournament loss. To hear Rick Pitino tell it, it is just the start of the Iona Gaels’ ascent, and he plans on overseeing it for the long term.
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