Pitino Chronicles, Episode V: Big East Tourney is most special in college hoops


Editor’s Note: FOX Sports is publishing an exclusive interview series with Rick Pitino throughout the college basketball season, highlighting the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and the sport’s active winningest head coach as he takes over at St. John’s. In the final episode of our five-part series titled “The Pitino Chronicles,” we’re focusing on the Big East Tournament, which airs Wednesday-Saturday on FOX and FS1. Pitino won three Big East Tournament crowns in 2009, 2012 and 2013 with Louisville. His St. John’s team takes on Seton Hall in the 4-5 quarterfinal showdown at 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday on FS1.

As for the Pitino Chronicles, you can watch Episode 5 below, and check out Episode 1 hereEpisode 2 here, Episode 3 here and Episode 4 here

“It is the most special tournament in all of college basketball.” 

Those were the first words Rick Pitino said when the Hall of Famer was asked about the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament, which will be held for a 42nd consecutive year inside Madison Square Garden this week. 

The 71-year-old Pitino, who is in his first season leading the Red Storm program, has put the Johnnies in position to potentially hear their name called on Selection Sunday. St. John’s enters the Big East Tournament riding a five-game winning streak, and currently sitting in Mike Decourcy’s “Last Four In” in his latest bracket forecast. Pitino and the Red Storm can essentially punch their ticket with a win on Thursday afternoon in the 4/5 matchup with Seton Hall. The Pirates swept the Red Storm in the regular season and actually sparked Pitino’s postgame rant on Feb. 18 about his team’s lack of athleticism

Pitino, who is 14-7 all time in the Big East Tournament and won the event three times (2009, 2012, 2013) during a period of glory years at Louisville, opened up in our finale episode on what distinguishes the event from any other and what his championship memories are inside MSG. 

“We’re the Big East, and football does not dominate the Big East. We are dominated by basketball,” said Pitino, who was part of the original league’s breakup when he was at Louisville in 2013 and now is back in the basketball-first, 11-school configuration of the conference that continues to exist in the football-controlled college sports landscape. “The Big East Tournament is the greatest tournament of all the conferences. It’s something special to be in this league, where you don’t travel five hours to wait at the airport for three or four hours, and there’s still sanity left in the Big East.” 

Pitino referenced his 2013 Louisville team, which was led by Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Siva joined Patrick Ewing as the only multi-time winner of the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player award. 

After a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 9, the Hall of Famer told his team that they would win the next 16 games to take the Big East Tournament and national championships. That’s exactly what happened. 

“When we got to The Garden that year, my speech was this: ‘We’re winning this thing [Big East Tournament] back to back. Nobody goes after those nets. We’re not cutting down the nets then. We’re not doing it then, Elite Eight, Final Four, never – until we win the national championship.” 

Pitino also talked about his history of player development, and how he learned at the legendary Five-Star Basketball Camp in the 1970s what goes into teaching and grooming his teams to be the best they can be during this time of the year. 

Finally, Pitino revealed what he does when he gets back to his house for some time away from the court with a fun, exclusive story.

Watch Episode 5 of “The Pitino Chronicles” below and follow along at FOXSports.com and on social media, @CBBonFOX.

Pitino Chronicles: Rick Pitino speaks on the Big East Tournament

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him at @John_Fanta.

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