SYRACUSE — Jim Boeheim hired Rick Pitino as an assistant at Syracuse in 1976 and 47 years later he has no doubts about what his former pupil is going to do in his first season as the head coach of St. John’s.
“They’re going to be at worst a top-20 team this season,” Boeheim said on Thursday afternoon at Syracuse practice. “They might be in the top 10 or 15. The difference between Rick (Pitino) and other guys is he doesn’t need the best players to win. And he has players this season at St. John’s.”
The Red Storm — who have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2000 — are currently ranked 23rd in the ROTHSTEIN 45.
12 of the 14 players on St. John’s roster are brand new, but the Red Storm do bring back an all-conference caliber player in 6-11 center Joel Soriano, who averaged 15.2 points and 11.9 rebounds last season.
“Getting Soriano back was huge for them” Boeheim added. “He’s a proven guy and I also think that it’s important to note how old some of the key guys on St. John’s are going to be. That’s a big deal in college basketball.”
Six of the players on St. John’s roster — Soriano, Jordan Dingle (Penn), Chris Ledlum (Harvard), Daniss Jenkins (Iona), Nahiem Alleyne (UConn), and Sean Conway (VMI) — are either seniors or graduate students.
When asked if he thought it might take St. John’s some time to become a top tier team in the Big East since the league boasts three likely top-10 teams in Marquette, UConn, and Creighton, Boeheim didn’t hesitate to give a quick response.
“You have to look at what Rick (Pitino) has done with lesser resources,” Boeheim added. “I told him not to take the Boston University job in 1978 and he took them to the NCAA Tournament. He then took Providence to the Final Four in 1987 and they might have won the whole thing if they didn’t play us in the Final Four. Then Kentucky goes on probation and they hire him and they’re in the Final Four in a couple of years. Louisville? Look at the players that he won a national title with that year. Luke Hancock transferred from George Mason and nobody was recruiting Russ Smith, but he became a great player because of Rick. He’s a great coach.”
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