Rick Pitino says St. John’s basketball ‘has to be played in a major facility’

St. John's Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino speaks at a press conference at Madison Square Garden to introduce him as the new head coach of St.John’s men’s basketball.
amNewYork/Kyle Sweeting

NEW YORK — If Rick Pitino has his way, the St. John’s Red Storm will be playing much more frequently at Madison Square Garden, and other major venues in the area, going forward. 

That’s part of Pitino’s plan to revamp the struggling program and return it to national relevance in college basketball. That means putting the Red Storm on the biggest stage possible to accommodate the heights the Hall-of-Fame coach anticipates St. John’s reaching now that he is in charge. 

Locations for games next season’s games are “somewhat set in stone,” Pitino said after his introductory press conference on Tuesday. However, it’s clear where he wants to play going forward. 

“My vision is to play every game at Madison Square Garden conference-wise,” Pitino said. “It has to be played in a major facility ’cause you’re going to need it. Carnesecca Arena will not be big enough for the brand of basketball that we’re going to build.”

Madison Square Garden has long been the part-time home for St. John’s, which splits its home schedule between The Garden and the on-campus basketball venue. The school only played four Big East games at MSG last season while the rest of their home slate had been held at Carnesecca Arena

The tri-state area boasts four major venues, including the Garden. Nearby Barclays Center and UBS Arena have both hosted college basketball in recent years and Pitino-led Iona had played games at both arenas during his three years coaching the Gaels. 

Pitino also has a connection of sorts to UBS Arena, located in nearby Elmont, due to his relationship with Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. The Hall-of-Fame general manager had hired Pitino as the basketball coach of Providence in the 1980s and one of Pitino’s first calls after he got the St. John’s job was to Lamoriello. 

So could that mean the Red Storm could play at UBS Arena?

“Certainly we’d love to play at UBS as well,” Pitino told amNewYork when asked about it. “We’ve just gotta get in large arenas where the St. John’s fans could get behind us. It’s right nearby.”

The excitement around Pitino’s hiring and a greater St. John’s presence comes as the NCAA takes over The Garden this week for the East Regional semifinals and finals. It marks the first time since 2017 that March Madness basketball is back at the World’s Most Famous Arena. 

Madison Square Garden had been slated to host part of the tournament during the canceled 2020 NCAA Tournament.