Could St. John’s land MAAC Player of the Year and more in transfer portal?

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Could Walter Clayton Jr. transfer from Iona to St. John's?
Iona’s Walter Clayton Jr. (1) rebounds against Connecticut’s center Donovan Clingan (32) in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Just two days after St. John’s announced Rick Pitino as their new head coach, some of his former Iona players have entered the transfer portal and speculation is mounting that they could be on the way to join him. 

The first player to enter the portal was senior forward Quinn Slazinski, who put his name in on Monday, followed by Nelly Junior Joseph, Walter Clayton Jr., and Cruz Davis, who entered the portal after Pitino’s introductory press conference at St. John’s.


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While all four players have been valuable contributors at times for Iona, the biggest name of the group is Walter Clayton Jr., who was named MAAC Player of the Year this year. The former Gaels point guard averaged 16.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 steals during the year before posting 15 points, four rebounds, and four assists in the 13th-seeded Gaels’ first-round NCAA Tournament loss to 4th-seeded UConn.

Since Pitino recruited Clayton Jr. to Iona and has praised him during their time together, there was immediate speculation that the point guard would be heading to Queens. Speculation that was only aided by Pitino’s admission in his press conference that there would likely be a large roster turnover for St. John’s. 

“There’s certain players I know that fit in with me and certain players that won’t fit exactly,” he stated. “Certain players won’t fit in and should not play for me. They just shouldn’t. They should go to a different place and fit in.”

“A lot of players probably won’t be back on his team, because it probably not a good fit for me,” he continued. “With me, I think my players love playing for me, but it takes a certain type of basketball player to want to play for me. He’s got to be a total, over-the-top in love with the game of basketball. And if you’re not just a bad fit with me, it doesn’t work.”

As a result, Pitino admitted that St. John’s would likely have to bring in six to eight new players, some of whom could be among this group from Iona. 

Slazinski, a senior forward who spent two years at Louisville before transferring to Iona was a starter in his first season and looked poised to be a big factor in the Gaels’ frontcourt this year, averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26.6 minutes over his first seven games. However, an ankle injury limited him to just those seven games and he will now be looking to play his fifth year at his third school.

Joseph, a junior from Senegal who was part of the NBA’s Academy Africa, was the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2020-21 and was a major contributor for Iona this year, averaging 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game. He has also started 82 of 86 games at Iona and at 6’9″ 240 pounds could form an imposing frontcourt with Joel Soriano, who is rumored to be staying at St. John’s. 

For any player who intends to transfer, they have to provide written notification of intent to the school’s compliance office and then the office enters the player’s name in the database. The player’s request cannot be refused.

Once a player’s name shows up in the portal, other schools are free to contact the player. While players can change their minds and withdraw from the portal, their current scholarship is no longer binding once they enter the portal, so they risk losing out on a scholarship opportunity altogether. 

With all four of these players now free to communicate with other teams, it should only be a matter of time before we see how aggressive Rick Pitino is in trying to bring them, or others, to St. John’s as he looks to rebuild the program in his image. 

For more St. John’s and college basketball coverage, visit amNY Sports

Rick Pitino and St. John's
New St. John’s head coach Rick Pitino poses for photos during a press conference at Madison Square Garden.amNewYork/Kyle Sweeting