Rick Pitino only needed three words to describe his Monday.
“It was awesome,” he told The Post.
Five months after taking the job at Iona and close to three years after he was fired by Louisville, Rick Pitino was on the floor working out his new players for the first time, getting to know his eight-man recruiting class he recruited solely through video and Zoom sessions, and his five holdovers. With in-person classes beginning Monday, Iona was allowed to begin individual workouts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gaels had four groups of four players working with Pitino and his coaching staff for 45 minutes apiece.
“Before you pass judgment on who can play and who can’t play, the first thing you need to do is get them in basketball shape, and that’s what we’ll try to do in the next two weeks,” said Pitino, the former Louisville, Kentucky and Providence coach who has been in New Rochelle since the end of June.
The coaches, which include the 67-year-old Pitino and 71-year-old assistant Tom Abatemarco, wore masks and goggles as a safety precaution. The players have been on campus since late July with 10 of them needing to clear quarantine because they came from overseas or states with high coronavirus rates. Moving forward, everyone will be tested twice a week, and in two weeks, Iona will re-evaluate the situation as it looks to expand the workouts. Players are constantly wiping their hands.
While it was too early for Pitino to make a judgement on his roster, he said he was impressed by senior guards Asante Gist and Isaiah Ross. They will be counted on immediately to help bring the young team along.
“We’re starting with a senior backcourt and that’s a good start,” he said.
In early July, Pitino made waves by suggesting the season shouldn’t begin until the new year. Since then, the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled fall sports and the non-conference season is in doubt in college basketball. The NCAA has yet to announce its plan for the season. President Mark Emmert said last week he felt using bubbles for 2021 championships is “perfectly viable,” an idea Pitino thinks could work for conference seasons. The Big East is one league that is at least exploring the possibility, according to sources.
“It’s probably something we should be discussing now,” he said.
For now, Pitino isn’t overly concerned about when the season will begin. He’s focused on getting a feel for his roster and developing the players he has brought in. After being away for so long, Monday was at least a start.
“I’m so over-the-top into player development. For years I’ve been doing this for four hours every morning and it was great to get back into it,” said Pitino, who spent the last two years coaching professionally in Greece. “The players were very excited to be on the court, the coaches were excited to be on the court.
“It was like being put away and your favorite thing in life was taken away and now you get a chance to do it again.”
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