Rick Pitino at Iona making mid-majors more fun

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Rick Pitino new head coach at Iona. Photo courtesy of Iona College.

Its not often that Iona basketball makes national headlines but they certainly did so back in March with the announcement of the hiring of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.

Pitino hasn’t coached in the NCAA since 2017 when he was forced to leave Louisville after 16 seasons amidst an FBI scandal evolving payment and illegal benefits for players.

Now Pitino is attempting to do what many of us have enjoyed doing via EA Sports NCAA Basketball and Football video games or in FIFA Soccer which is to take a lesser known team and try to build them into a national powerhouse.

Pitino has a resume that includes a career record of 770-271 along with two National Championships (1996 and 2013), seven Final Four appearances and of course the biggest of them all the Greek Cup win in 2019.

He takes over an Iona squad that has made it to the NCAA tournament in four of the past five years but had a down year last season going just 12-17. However, Pitino has already begun to work his magic by bringing eight new recruits ahead of the 2020-21 season.

Here is the list of new recruits headed to Iona:

NameYr.Pos.Ht.Wt.Hometown / High School / Previous School
Darreus BrownJr.G6-3180Amarillo, TX / Pro Vision Academy / Clarendon College
Robert BrownJr.F6-9235Dallas, TX / Advanced Prep / New Mexico State
Tahlik ChavezSo.G6-2165Arlington, TX / Lake Ridge / Garden City CC
Johan CrafoordFr.F6-9230Stockholm, Sweden / Glove Prep Christian Academy (FL)
Berrick JeanLouisJr.G6-4195Lehigh Acres, FL / Canterbury School / Florida Southwestern State
Nelly Junior JosephFr.F6-8230Benin City, Nigeria / NBA Academy Africa (Senegal)
Ryan MyersFr.G6-1170Brooklyn, NY / Christ the King
Osborn ShemaSo.F7-1200Kanombe, Rwanda / Glove Prep Christian (FL) / New Mexico Military Inst.

Two of Pitino’s recruits expected to make an impact for the Gaels are Robert Brown a 6-foot-9 junior forward and Berrick JeanLouis a 6-foot-4 junior guard who both started their college careers at New Mexico State. Brown was able to practice with Iona in the spring after his 2018-19 was cut short for the Aggies due to injury while JeanLouis will be immediately eligible after dominating the Juco ranks last year at Florida Southwestern State where he led his team to a 29-2 record.

Another key to Pitino’s impressive haul is 7-foot-1 Osborn Shema who turned down the likes of Florida State and Rutgers to play at Iona.

Aside from Gonzaga, its been a long time since any other mid-major has created a splash in the same manner that Iona is doing with Pitino now at the helm.

Pitino at Iona has a bit of a 90’s feel to it which is a time when you didn’t see the same divide between the major conference teams and the mid-majors. It was fun to see the likes of UNLV winning a national championship or UMass making deep runs into the tournament.

With Pitino at Iona, conference games against the likes of Rider, Fairfield or Marist just became a lot more interesting. When was the last time MAAC basketball became must watch viewing on a Tuesday night in January?

Iona’s talent may not strike fear into the hearts of the blue bloods of college hoops just yet but the guy walking the sidelines for them will be enough to make any opposing coaches collar just a little tighter late in the game.

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