Rick Pitino got off to a fast start in recruiting as the new head coach at Iona… and perhaps the most surprising head coaching hire of the recent coaching carousel.
Not every Gael is thrilled by the new coach, though. Pitino steps in for longtime Gaels coach Tim Cluess, who resigned in March due to health concerns. Cluess was highly successful at Iona, reaching a pair of NCAA Tournaments in 2014 and 2015.
Pitino is one of the best coaches in the sport, but he brings significant baggage. The series of scandals that ultimately drove him out of Louisville are no surprise to anyone. One player in particular had a pretty open negative reaction to the whole thing.
Isaiah Washington played for Pitino’s son at Minnesota, before transferring to play for Cluess. In an interview with the Star Tribune ahead of Minnesota’s 2018-19 season, he took some jabs at Washington in discussing the team’s point guard situation. As Mike Rutherford of Louisville blog Card Chronicle points out, Washington tweeted “No please no” with a prayer hands emoji as the Pitino news emerged back in March.
I'd say the writing was on the wall with this one. Rick Pitino roasted Isaiah Washington when he was playing for Richard at Minnesota. Isaiah then didn't appear particularly excited about the Rick to Iona rumors. #JellyFam pic.twitter.com/LNUHMOeG2t
— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) May 21, 2020
Rick Pitino said that Washington needed to “mature out of the social media world” in order to be an effective point guard for the Golden Gophers. From the Star Tribune:
“I like his team this year. I’m not crazy about the point guard position. I think he needed … now if Isaiah Washington can mature out of the social media world and into the real basketball world of how to get it done, then they’ve got great promise. If not, he’s just got to find a different point guard and move in a different direction.”
Obviously, Washington was well aware of that take when Iona brought Pitino on. It does sound like he talked things out with Pitino before making the decision, given the two month delay on it. From his advisor Roosevelt Byers, in The Journal News:
“It was on the basis of Pitino coming in and bringing in a whole new coaching staff and bringing in eight new players,” Byers said. “They both felt the situation was going into another direction and he didn’t want to feel like he was holding (Washington) back. … They both kind of came to a mutual agreement that this is something both sides can do, and Isaiah can go off for his senior year and have some success.”
“At the end of the day, we appreciate what Iona has done, and Iona giving Isaiah Washington the opportunity,” Byers said. “As you saw out there, he became comfortable toward the end and played pretty well. He proved from Minnesota from what he averaged there to this year, almost 12 (points), five (rebounds), and four (assists), this kid has a lot left in his tank.”
The 2019-20 season at Iona was his best as a college player. He averaged 11.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and four assists per game for the Gaels. His shooting percentages of .406/.331/.803 were career highs. He should get some serious looks by other teams.