Big East-Big 12 Battle: WVU Quinn Slazinski vs St. John’s Red Storm

2023-11-30 06:28:10

WVU’s quinn Slazinski takes a jumpshot around the free throw line.

MORGANTOWN — The day Quinn Slazinski has been waiting for is finally about to arrive when Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino brings his St. John’s Red Storm to the Coliseum as part of the Big East-Big 12 Battle.

It will be a reunion of sorts, for Slazinski played two years at Iona under Pitino before transferring to WVU while Pitino jumped back into the big time by taking over the St. John’s job in the Big 12.

Don’t, however, look for Slazinski to be treating Pitino to dinner when he’s in town.

Pitino’s the opposition now.

“I’ve had that game circled for a while,” Slazinski said earlier this year when asked about the reunion during his first gathering with the West Virginia media. “I don’t know how much conversation we’ll share. If you know me, you know I’m looking at that game. I’m excited about it. I’m the ultimate competitor. Some of those guys on that team were teammates at Iona. But everyone knows I want to come in and kill them.”

Pitino, of course, is a coaching legend and he has a history against WVU.

The 71-year-old Pitino is among the winningest coaches in college basketball history with an 834-293 record at Boston College, Providence, Kentucky, Louisville, Iona and St. John’s. He is the first coach to ever take three different schools to the Final Four, has reached 7 Final Fours in his career and won the national championship at Kentucky in 1996.

The moment most WVU aficionados recall came in the 2005 NCAA Tournament when a Mountaineer team coached by John Beilein went against Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals and threatened to blow them out, racing to a 40-27 halftime lead.

But Louisville’s depth and fast pace allowed them to wear WVU down, then out, catching them in regulation and allowing them to win, 93-85, in overtime despite a 25-point effort from Kevin Pittsnogle that included 6 of 9 3s. For the game, Beilein’s team made a staggering 18 of 27 3-point attempts but could haul down only one more rebound than 3-point shots they made.

The scene in the Mountaineer locker room following that game was almost as poignant as the Final Four scene against Duke when Da’Sean Butler went down on the court with his knee injury and was being consoled by an emotional Bob Huggins crouched over him.

In that locker room, players were exhausted, none more than point guard J.D. Collins who lay spent on the locker room floor, crushed by the defeat.

Pitino has history with WVU coaches Butler and Alex Ruoff, having faced both them while coaching Louisville, but his experience with Slazinski was up close and personal as his coach. He had recruited Slazinski a little bit out of high school.

“It’s crazy how life comes full cycle,” Slazinski said.

Slazinski went to Louisville out of Huntington Prep in West Virginia and was there two seasons, barely playing as a freshman but getting 8 starts as a sophomore and averaging 6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds.

He joined Pitino at Iona in New York and played 33 games as a junior, averaging 8.4 points and 3.1 rebounds before moving into the starting lineup full time last year before an injury ended his season 7 games in with him scoring 11.3 per game and pulling in 5.7 rebounds per game.

As he moved up to Power 5 basketball at West Virginia, Pitino regained his place among big-time basketball schools as he took over the St. John’s job in the Big East.

He listened and learned under Pitino.

Much as Huggins was an old school coach at WVU, Pitino is at St. John’s.

“I like to say he’s a very wise coach. I don’t want to say old. He’s really, really wise. He gives it to you straight. Obviously, some people are not too big a fan of how he coaches. My mom being one of them; just the yelling and stuff like that.

“But that gets guys going.”

Pitino may have been harsh, but he was straight-forward with his players at Iona.

“He never lied to you, which I appreciated. It’s a brutal, honest truth and it’s relentless, on top of you 24/7. But that’s helpful. There’s a good balance,” Slazinski said.

“He has his own way of coaching. He’s tough, relentless … I got to become a lot better basketball player under him. He taught me a lot of life lessons. He was really big on becoming great men.”

Certainly, it’s a proven style and rest assured that Josh Eilert, who comes into this game with a career total of six games as a head coached compared to Pitino’s 1,143 games, not counting two unsuccessful forays into the NBA forest of coaches, has welcomed Slazinski’s input this week facing Pitino.

Slazinski has had the benefit to see new-age and age-old coaching first hand.

“There’s a difference. You look at the coach at Miami in the NFL, him being a young coach, really supportive of his players. I think that’s just the new age of coaching,” Slazinski said, referring to 40-year-old, second-yard coach Mike McDaniel, a Yale graduate.

“Rick’s been coaching a long time. He got his first job when my parents weren’t even married yet. Being here is going to be a great opportunity for me to get a different look at coaching. Obviously, after getting screamed at for 12 hours a day, it’s good to try something else.”

“For the few months I’ve been here I’ve been able to play free, to play relaxed, to really enjoy every second I’m out there. Coming here has been a breath of fresh air, a great change of scenery.”

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