Rick Pitino talks recruiting, schedule, and MAAC

Life in a one-bid league as a Hall of Fame coach can get old really fast, as Rick Pitino learned the hard way this March. Even before Pitino’s Iona team lost in the MAAC Quarterfinals to Rider in Atlantic City after going 17–3 in the league, the multi-time National Champion knew that if he wanted his team to have any chance at an at-large bid, they’d need to play a tougher schedule and build up a program.

The Gaels’ 2022 newcomers include 5 high school recruits and one junior college transfer, as Pitino strayed away from the transfer portal. Pitino said: “I just think to build a program with a solid foundation, you gotta do it through the high school ranks. I want to build a nucleus and really, really want to build it through the ranks of having two or three freshmen a year. We certainly have that.”

Here are the recruits that Rick Pitino brought in:

Keither Florence is a 6–8, 210 pound power forward from Tampa, FL: “Very athletic, very strong, terrific talent athletically, gives us athleticism we didn’t have last year”

Josué Grullon is a 6–5 wing from Miami Prep via the Dominican Republic that possesses the ability to shoot from NBA 3 point range: “We’re hoping he can develop into a Tyson Jolly-type basketball player”

Cruz Davis is a 6–3, 3-star point guard from Huntington Prep via Lewisville, TX who originally committed to Oregon State: “Terrific athlete, great hops, great shooter, 6 foot 3, can play the 1 can play the 2”

Sadiku Ayo is a 6–6, 2-star wing from the Bronx who ranks as the #6 player from New York: “One of the premier wings in the east”

Silas Sunday is a 7–0, 3 star center from the same school as Ayo, originally from Ireland: “Terrific passer, great feel for the game…could play professional basketball someday”

Daniss Jenkins is a 6–3 JUCO point guard transfer from Odessa College: “had an unbelievable season at Odessa…. [he is a] young man that does it all….like Elijah Joiner, he knows the game….. [is a] great leader”

Iona returns these 7 scholarship players

Ryan Myers: Rising junior guard who plays the 1 and the 2, can shoot the three well and can control a game off the bench

Walter Clayton Jr.: Rising sophomore guard who possesses great athleticism and the natural gift of scoring

Berrick Jeanlouis: Rising senior wing who is arguably the MAAC’s best wing defender

Quinn Slazinski: Rising senior forward who possesses the ability to stretch the floor and shoot the three

Nelly Junior Joseph: Rising junior center who made All-MAAC First Team and is a dominant force on both ends of the floor in the post

Osborn Shema: Rising senior backup center who is a spark plug with his long wingspan and electric spurts of play

Joshua Duach: Rising sophomore wing who didn’t get much playing time, but profiles to be a good athlete and shooter

Iona also returns rising senior guard Parker Weiss, a walk-on who is capable of getting minutes and holding his own when players get in foul trouble. Weiss is expected to be unanimously elected the captain of the team next year, a rarity for a walk-on.

Iona’s schedule for 2022–23 reflects Rick Pitino’s ambition to play against strong opponents to potentially put the Gaels in position for an At-Large bid.

To open the season, Iona will face off with “an outstanding Ivy League opponent” on November 7th at home. Pitino said that this opponent is consistently in the top 3–4 of the Ivy League, and will not be Harvard, as the home-and-home return game in Cambridge has been pushed back to 2023–24. Given that Iona played against Yale last year at a neutral site, I’d have to assume that it’s either Princeton or Penn.

Iona will continue their rivalry with Hofstra on Long Island on Friday, November 11th.

On November 18th, Iona will play against “An Atlantic-10 team” and one that “made NCAA last year” which narrows it down to either Davidson, Richmond, or Loyola Chicago at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

After the hastily scheduled game in January of 2022, Iona gets to host a Saint Louis team that very well could be ranked in the preseason poll on December 6th.

On December 11th, Iona will play “An NCAA Team” at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Iona has a home-and-home scheduled with New Mexico, coached by Richard Pitino, and the first leg will be in Alberquerque on December 18th this year.

The Gaels will compete in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii from December 22–25 with a bunch of teams from some high mid-major leagues as well as Washington State.

While the date has not been finalized yet, Iona will play against Seton Hall and new coach Shaheen Holloway at Madison Square Garden.

Pitino says that there’s one more game to be decided on the schedule, to make 11 non-conference games before the now 18-game MAAC season.

Perhaps most notably, Pitino had some choice words about the MAAC and many people have begun speculating.

He started by criticizing the league for hosting their tournament in Atlantic City.

Pitino is not pleased with the way that the MAAC is going about replacing Monmouth

Pitino discussed the Atlantic 10 and the MAAC’s ability to become a multi-bid league, saying that:

“If Richmond didn’t upset Davidson, they would have only had, out of 14 teams, one team in the NCAA this year. But I believe, with Loyola Chicago coming in, with Archie Miller going to Rhode Island and Frank Martin going to UMass, the Atlantic 10 is going to take off, because they just hired awesome coaches. So we need to get into a multi-bid league. Can the MAAC develop into something like that? I don’t know, it depends on who they’re bringing in. I don’t know what’s happening with that.”

And while this quote was taken out of context, the point remains that Pitino is essentially issuing an ultimatum to the MAAC administrators and other programs that they need to step up their game and create a more nationally competitive conference.

As the offseason progresses and the MAAC teams build their rosters, there will surely be more clarity on the competitiveness for next year, but as of right now, Iona remains the favorite.

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Sam Federman

Sam Federman

17 Year Old Sports Fan, NYC CBB Beat Writer. Aspiring sports broadcaster, analyst, and journalist. Host of PowerSports PowerHour