The feelings will be put aside on Friday when the St. John’s basketball meets West Virginia.
There will be an extra layer of intrigue when the St. John’s basketball team meets West Virginia in Morgantown on Friday night during the Big East vs. Big 12 Challenge as the Mountaineers best player, Quinn Slazinski, will have a chance to get the better of his former coach, Rick Pitino.
“This is a game I’ve had circled on my calendar…I’m here to beat St. John’s,” Slazinski told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
The 6-foot-9 forward, a transfer from Iona, originally committed to the Red Storm in April after Pitino was named as the program’s new head coach in March, one of then four players to follow the Hall of Famer to Queens.
St. John’s would add Harvard power forward Chris Ledlum a few weeks later and Slazinski, seeing the writing on the wall of having his minutes cut, reentered the portal and landed at West Virginia.
“It’s almost like God came down Himself and gave me the best Christmas present I could have ever received in my life,” Slazinski said.
The Houston, Texas native is on his third school after beginning his career at Louisville but has become the leading scorer — 16.3 points per game — for a Mountaineer team that has been bruised, battered, and nearly dismantled since the firing of head coach Bob Huggins.
“I don’t have anything to prove to [Pitino],” Slazinski, very graciously and maturely, continued. “I’m not here to play 1-on-1 against Rick Pitino. I’m here to play West Virginia vs. St. John’s.”
He was limited to just seven games last season due to injury but played in 33 games during his first season with the Gaels and averaged 8.4 points per contest for Pitino’s squad.
“The greatest thing Pitino taught me was that pressure is the greatest thing an athlete can have…and I’m using his words to play against him [Friday] night.”
St. John’s basketball head coach happy for former player’s success
Quinn Slazinski does not hold any grudges against Rick Pitino for how things unfolded this offseason, “It’s life. It’s just kind of how it works, and now that I’m here I’m just very thankful.”
Slazinski never practiced with St. John’s in the offseason before his departure, but says he wasn’t scared about the potential of having to compete for minutes with Chris Ledlum.
“The coach is going to do what’s best for his team…that doesn’t mean the player can’t do the same,” he added.
Rick Pitino has said that St. John’s would be in better position had Slazinski remained in Queens because of how thin the team is at power forward. The Red Storm could be weaker at the position against West Virginia since Ledlum has been battling a stomach virus the last week which forced him to miss two days of practice and drop nine pounds.
Pitino said on Wednesday that he expects Ledlum to play on Friday but he might not start.
“I can do nothing but thank [Pitino],” Slazinski continued. “He got me a lot better at basketball.”
The Hall of Famer shares the same sentiments and is pleased to see his former player thriving at his new destination, “I’m very happy he’s doing so well…for Quinn Slazinski he made the right move.”
“He wants to be a professional basketball player overseas and this is going to propel him to get that offer.”
However, all bets are off once the ball is tipped inside the WVU Coliseum and the juices are flowing, “The fire I’m going to play with [against St. John’s] is my competitive edge, not a ‘you did me wrong,'” Slazinski said.
Do not expect to see the Iona contingent sharing any pregame pleasantries before the game, but once the final buzzer sounds the group will continue its friendship.
“Who knows? Maybe we will grab a bite to eat after the game. I’ll have to ask him,” the West Virginia forward joked about the St. John’s basketball head coach.