In the heart of midtown Manhattan, an exclusive cocktail reception was held for some of the most generous supporters of the St. John’s University Athletics Department to meet Rick Pitino, the new Men’s Basketball Head Coach and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.
The gathering was held at a private club and the buzz of conversation was the promising outlook of New York’s Team—the St. John’s Red Storm.
“Our generous donors are the team behind our teams,” remarked Nicholas “Nick” Vendikos ’91SVC, Senior Director of Athletic Development. “Coach Pitino wants to get to know the broad, extended family of St. John’s—and special events like this help make that happen.”
Sprinkled throughout the crowded reception room were William J. Janetschek ’84CBA, ’17HON, Retired Partner and Chief Financial Officer, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., and Chair of the Board of Trustees, and current Trustees Kevin Reed ’75C, Retired Managing Director, Citigroup Asset Management; Lewis Rice, Jr. ’74SVC, Senior Vice President of Global Security and Trademark Protection, Estée Lauder Companies, Inc.; James J. Shannon ’87CBA, Partner, Chief Executive Officer, Indus Capital Partners, LLC; and Tarik S. Turner ’98C, Managing Director, Institutional Equities, AllianceBernstein LP.
Representing the Board of Governors were Matthew R. Conlin ’05TCB, Cofounder, Director, and President, Fluent Inc.; Thomas Cox ’82CBA, Chief Executive Officer, OnPoint Group, LLC, and Susan White ’85CBA, Head of Sales, Americas: KYC/AML Solutions, Bloomberg L.P. Vincentian confreres Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M. ’70C and Rev. Richard Rock, Campus Minister for Athletics, were also in attendance.
Mike Cragg, Director of Athletics, provided a recap of the Athletics Department year in review that included the St. John’s Men’s Tennis team BIG EAST title win for the second time in four years and an automatic bid to the 2023 NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Men’s Tennis Championship. The Women’s Basketball team—for the first time since 2016 and the 11th time in the program’s history—advanced to the NCAA Tournament. For the first time since 2015, a member of the St. John’s Men’s Golf team, Jack Simon, was crowned a co-BIG EAST champion. In addition, Mr. Cragg noted the service hours logged by the department, team grade point average highlights, and the proud statistic that the Athletics Department had 72 student-athletes and 25 spirit team members graduate this year.
“Great things are happening on the field and off,” explained Mr. Cragg.
Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President, addressed the audience by calling out some of the recent changes and challenges facing collegiate athletics, including the implementation of Name Image and Likeness (NIL) opportunities, the explosion of the transfer portal, and the potential ripple effect of conference realignments across the country.
Acknowledging the presence of BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman at the event, Fr. Shanley observed, “We have an effective team in place at the BIG EAST Conference and at St. John’s to navigate these changing and exciting times for our student-athletes and our fans who support them.”
Fr. Shanley then introduced Coach Pitino to the crowd, stating, “Rick is a change agent and is committed to leading our student-athletes and returning our program to national prominence.”
During his wide-ranging remarks, Coach Pitino regaled the crowd with anecdotes from his Hall of Fame coaching career, his growth as a coach both at the collegiate and professional levels, and his short- and long-term goals for the Red Storm.
Calling out his New York City roots—that include time living in three of the five boroughs during his early childhood—he exclaimed, “I love New York City. It’s in my blood.”
Coach Pitino described the whirlwind of the 10 weeks since being hired that featured hiring a staff, reassembling a roster, and recruiting 11 new players to the team. He complimented the leadership team at Madison Square Garden for the partnership demonstrated while pursuing recruits. He also revealed some of the personal characteristics and basketball skills that he looks for in collegiate players, while disclosing some of his player development techniques.
Sharing a rudimentary explanation of the NIL landscape, Coach Pitino encouraged the audience to get to know Vin Ochani ’06CPS, ’10L, and the team from Storm Marketing, LLC, who were also represented at the event.
“I’m energized about the future!” he beamed.
Coach Pitino strongly encouraged the attentive crowd to purchase tickets when the Men’s Basketball team hosts Michigan as part of the 2023 Gavitt Tipoff Games at Madison Square Garden. The contest, which is set for Monday, November 13, will mark the first meeting between the Johnnies and Wolverines since 2000.
He then personally introduced members of his coaching staff present at the reception that included Associate Head Coach Steve Masiello, Assistant Coach Ricky Johns, Assistant Coach Van Macon, and Director of Player Personnel Taliek Brown.
Moving to an informal question and answer session, Coach Pitino fielded questions from the attendees. Describing what has surprised him most about his brief time at St. John’s thus far, Coach Pitino cited the sheer beauty of the Queens, NY, campus. “It’s stunning.”
Asked about immediate next steps for the program, he emphasized the importance of building a positive team culture and having players connect by spending time together on and off the hardwood.
As the event wound down, a tangible energy and excitement for new beginnings permeated the room. Stepping out into the warm, spring air of a city that never sleeps, a yearning for autumn was overheard.
“Let’s get this season started!” quipped John R. Bender ’87CBA, Chief Executive Officer, Allied World Reinsurance Company; Cofounder, St. Baldrick’s Foundation; and a recipient of the 2023 Spirit of Service Award.