Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau thinks Rick Pitino will ‘do a great job at St. John’s’

Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau thinks Rick Pitino will ‘do a great job at St. John’s’

Tom Thibodeau has known Rick Pitino for decades and endorses his blockbuster hiring as St. John’s new men’s basketball coach.

“Just really, really happy for him. I think he’s been a great coach wherever he’s been,” Thibodeau said before the Knicks’ 140-134 loss to the Timberwolves Monday night at the Garden. “He’s been through a lot. When I was a young coach, I used to go watch his practices at Providence.

“So he’s a good man, great coach, and I know he’ll do a great job at St. John’s.”

The 70-year-old Pitino was hired by the Red Storm on Monday after three seasons — and two NCAA Tournament berths — at Iona.

Thibodeau was an assistant coach at Harvard from 1985-89, while Pitino was at Providence from 1985-87.

Pitino was named Knicks coach after leading the Friars to the 1987 Final Four, before returning to the college ranks at Kentucky two years later.

Tom Thibodeau endorses Rick Pitino in new head coach position at St. John's.
Tom Thibodeau endorses Rick Pitino in new head coach position at St. John’s.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

On Monday, Rick Pitino accepted his new job at Saint John's as their men's basketball head coach.
On Monday, Rick Pitino accepted his new job at Saint John’s as their men’s basketball head coach.
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Thibodeau believes Jalen Brunson, who finished with 23 points and 10 assists, should be a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Player award, which Julius Randle (57 points, four rebounds) won in 2020-21.

Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen and Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are considered the favorites for the prize.

“I just think that you look at what he’s done. And I think the important thing is the impact on winning, for all our players,” Thibodeau said of Brunson, who went 9-for-18 from the field and had two turnovers. “And I think when you win, the by-product of winning is people get recognized. So I’m hopeful that he does get recognized, but I don’t want it to get lost.

“We have a number of guys that hopefully will be up for things, just don’t lose sight, don’t get sidetracked. [But] it’s the impact he’s had on the team … you can’t say enough of what he’s meant to our team just from a leadership standpoint.”

Jalen Brunson looks to make a move against the Timberwolves on Monday night at the Garden.
Jalen Brunson looks to make a move against the Timberwolves on Monday night at the Garden.
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Karl-Anthony Towns (strained right calf) and Anthony Edwards (right ankle sprain) were out for the Timberwolves.

Rudy Gobert (left ankle sprain) was available after being listed as questionable.

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Ohtani, Japan rally late, edge Mexico 6-5 to reach WBC final

Ohtani, Japan rally late, edge Mexico 6-5 to reach WBC final

MIAMI — Shohei Ohtani sparked a ninth-inning rally with a leadoff double, and Munetaka Murakami hit a walk-off, two-run double to lift Japan over Mexico 6-5 Monday night and into the World Baseball Classic final.

Yu Darvish is set to start when Japan faces the defending champion United States in Tuesday night’s championship game — Japan has won the tournament twice, Team USA has done it once. Merrill Kelly is likely to start for the U.S. side.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Japan advance to play the United States in the finals.

Ohtani went 2 for 4. The Los Angeles Angels star scored in the seventh when Masataka Yoshida hit a tying, three-run homer off reliever JoJo Romero.

Ohtani’s double off Giovanny Gallegos was his fourth of the tournament. After Ohtani got the rally started, Yoshida walked to bring up Murakami.

The game began as a pitching duel between Rōki Sasaki and Patrick Sandoval, but Japan’s offensive power proved too much for Mexico’s relievers.

Sasaki struck out three in four innings in his first appearance on a global stage.

Dozens of MLB officials were in attendance scouting Sasaki, who’s entry into the majors is all-but-certainly forthcoming in the future after he became a sensation last year in his second season with the Pacific League’s Chiba Lotte Marines. Many are already mentioning the 21-year-old right-hander in the class of his Samurai Japan teammate, Ohtani.

Twenty six of Sasaki’s 64 pitches eclipsed 100 mph.

In the fourth, Luis Urías launched Sasaki’s 90.8 mph cutter for a three-run homer to left-center field. The drive scored Rowdy Tellez and Isaac Paredes, who reached with two of the five hits Sasaki gave up.

Sandoval struck out six and allowed just four hits in four scoreless innings before he was replaced by José Urquidy.

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Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren on precipice of injury return

Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren on precipice of injury return

The Rangers’ defense corps may finally be at full strength.

Ryan Lindgren is primed to return to the lineup Tuesday night against the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden, after head coach Gerard Gallant said Sunday night that he would “bet a lot” the 25-year-old defenseman will be ready to go in the next game.

The Rangers have been without Lindgren since he suffered a shoulder injury on a hit from the Capitals’ T.J. Oshie on Feb. 25.

He’s missed the last 11 games, which is far and away the longest injury stretch of Lindgren’s five-year NHL career.

Despite returning to practice with the team during its last road trip to Montreal, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, Lindgren was ultimately not ready to play and ended up backtracking to individual skates and off-ice workouts.

It was always clear that the Rangers, who managed to go 8-2-1 without him, weren’t going to rush the Minnesota native.

Ryan Lindgren
Ryan Lindgren

As always seems to be the case, however, the Rangers have not been the same team defensively without him.

“It’s noticeable in the locker room as well,” Mika Zibanejad said a couple weeks ago of Lindgren’s absence. “Obviously, well-liked guy. He comes to work every day. He works, I would say, harder than anyone and just the sacrifice he makes and everything.

“He’s been playing with [Adam] Fox for a long time, the way they have the chemistry. Whenever he comes back, we’re all going to be really happy. He’s a really good player for us, a really important player.”

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller defends against Ryan Lindgren in the first period at Rogers Arena.
Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller defends against Ryan Lindgren in the first period at Rogers Arena.

The Rangers’ first-period performance on Sunday against the Predators etched the club into the NHL history books.

Their five goals through the first 10:01 of play marked the fastest five goals to begin a game in Rangers history.

Since 1994-95, only five teams have accomplished the feat faster.

The Rangers also became the fourth team to score at least six goals in a first period this season, joining the Panthers, Kraken and Sabres.

Artemi Panarin notched three points during the scoring onslaught, the 11th time he has recorded that many in a single period for the Rangers.

He trails only Rod Gilbert (13), Brian Leetch (12) and Steve Vickers (12) in that category.

Zibanejad was named as the NHL’s first star of the week after the Swedish center posted multi-point performances in each of the Rangers’ previous four games.

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Identity crisis: Nets torn between crashing glass and playing fast

Identity crisis: Nets torn between crashing glass and playing fast

The most underrated part of any defensive possession is the end: securing a rebound.

It doesn’t matter how solid the defensive principles are, how much length and athleticism is on the floor, how versatile the defenders are or if that versatility allows you to switch one through five defensively.

Every defense will crumble if the opponent has multiple attempts at a basket on a single possession.

Such is the state of affairs for a Nets team that ranks second-to-last in rebounding behind only the Dallas Mavericks, who do not have a true center on the roster.

The Nets only have one — Nic Claxton — who is a lock to play every single night. And because the Nets play an aggressive style of defense tailored to Claxton’s ability to switch defensively while also helping from the weak side to block shots at the rim, the Nets are susceptible to being pummeled on the offensive glass.

“Yeah, we have to accept it. It’s truth. It’s staring us in the face,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after Sunday’s matinee loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Jacque Vaughn is trying to get his team to crash the glass.

Two Nuggets players — Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. — combined to out-rebound the entire Nets starting lineup.

“The scouting report says to try to go offensive rebound vs. the Nets, and we have to understand that and really do a diligent job of continuing to try and do it together. We can’t do it with two people, with three people. We show clips at halftime where literally we need all five people to come back and get a piece of somebody,” Vaughn said.

The issue, however, is two-fold: This is hardly a well-kept secret, and the solution — crashing the glass — goes against the core identity of a team built to play fast, get out in transition and generate offense by shooting an obscene number of threes.

Not to mention the Nets just don’t have the personnel: Ben Simmons is a strong rebounder who is out due to a combination of left knee and back soreness and has no timetable for a return, and second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe — a noted glass-cleaner — has not been able to crack the rotation.

Vaughn instead opts to play small with either Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith or, in rare cases, Yuta Watanabe playing backup five.

It was easier to sweep the rebounding struggles under the rug under the guise of supremely talented offensive superstars returning from injury to save the day.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, however, are not walking through that door, and this is a Nets team that must now save itself as it embarks on a stretch of games that project to determine whether or not Brooklyn will need to compete in the Play-In Tournament to solidify its seeding as an Eastern Conference playoff team.

“I know we’re capable of doing it. We did it before,” said O’Neale, who ranks second on the team in rebounds per game despite his listed height of 6-5. “Just everybody paying a little more attention to detail to it, helping Nic out.”

The loss to the Nuggets marked Brooklyn’s third in a row and moved the Nets 2.5 games below the Knicks, who sit fifth in the conference. More concerning is the other side of the standings: The loss moved Brooklyn just one game ahead of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat, who appear to have turned a corner after a slow start and have won six of their last 10 games.

The Nets entered Monday with 11 games remaining on the schedule. The next four are brutal for a team with such a glaring rebounding weakness: The Nets host the Cleveland Cavaliers — who start two seven-footers: Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley — two games in a row. Then they travel to Miami for a date with Bam Adebayo and the surging Heat before hitting the road to face Orlando for the second leg of a back-to-back.

The Magic play five players 6-10 or taller significant minutes, making them a nightmare matchup for the Nets, even if their record indicates otherwise.

“You know how I am: I’m trying to really keep our guys honed in almost silo-ish in taking care of that day’s game,” Vaughn said when asked to look down the road. “I don’t want our guys looking beyond these next four hours, really, of taking care of business against this team. Our hands will be full enough. So really trying to get our guys to not look ahead and just take care of today’s work.”

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And while rebounding traditionally falls on the big man down low, the Nets don’t play a style of defense that allows their center to be parked by the rim all game.

Claxton ranks 16th in the NBA in rebounding at 9.2 boards per game. He is averaging 12.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting just under 60% from the field in the month of March alone.

The undersized O’Neale, however, averages the second-most rebounds (6.6) per game this month. Mikal Bridges and Finney-Smith each average four rebounds per game through the team’s last nine games. Bridges recorded just one rebound in 31 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets.

“[We have to] continue to harp on it, continue to crash the glass and just figure out our rotations and where we’re gonna be so we know where those rebounds are coming to,” said the 6-8 Cam Johnson, who averages 4.4 rebounds per game in Brooklyn but 5.8 rebounds through the team’s last nine games. “We know who our personnel is. We had more offensive rebounds than [the Nuggets] today, so it was a better rebounding battle overall compared to the last time we played them.”

The Nets, however, are leaning into being the undersized team trying to win games even if they lose the rebound margin on a nightly basis. Playing small allows them to play fast and get up threes in transition, an offensive point of emphasis now that running half court isolation sets through Durant and Irving are no longer an option.

The conundrum, of course, is that prioritizing crashing the glass means the team can’t get out in transition, where they must generate offense now that half court sets are no longer as fruitful. The Nets only had two fast break points when they found themselves down 20 entering the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Denver.

“Especially when we go small and me or Doe is at the five, we all got to gang rebound,” O’Neale said. “I mean that’s our advantage and playing fast. I don’t know how many fast break points we had, but we got to get a couple more. Playing fast and with pace, that’s what we’re good at.”

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Giants’ dinner with Gamecocks CB Cam Smith a tip on NFL Draft focus

Giants’ dinner with Gamecocks CB Cam Smith a tip on NFL Draft focus

The Giants need corners, and their actions on the NFL Draft pro day circuit indicate they’re doing close homework on some of the top cover guys.

A Giants contingent took projected first-round South Carolina corner Cam Smith out to dinner last week the night before the Gamecocks’ pro day, several sources told the Daily News.

Meanwhile, some league sources say not to ignore Smith’s college teammate, 6-2, 198-pound corner Darius Rush, when Joe Schoen is on the clock in the middle rounds in late April.

The 6-1, 180-pound Smith is a popular prospect with impressive length who “can play man coverage at outside corner and nickel” in the NFL, one coach said.

Cam Smith had dinner with Giants' reps, according to sources.

Many scouts and coaches believe Smith could land in the late first round, which is where the Giants hold the No. 25 overall pick.

But multiple sources pointed out that Rush has had the better spring, including a strong Senior Bowl and a 4.36 40-yard dash to Smith’s 4.43 at the NFL Combine.

And as a converted wide receiver with only two years as a starting corner, Rush is seen as a developing defensive player on the rise. He’s also a good gunner on punt coverage.

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Multiple sources believe he could go anywhere between the second and fourth rounds.

“A lot of upside,” one scout said.

Evaluators also seem to view Rush as a cleaner prospect than Smith. Some, therefore, see Smith as a late-first round risk and a better value in the second.

That’s why the Giants do their homework, though, including dinners out with players on their radar: to get to know the person, not just the player, and find out who will be a fit.

And with the Minnesota Vikings (No. 23) and Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 24) both in need of outside corners — and picking right in front of the Giants — Schoen needs to have all options on the table.

He certainly has plenty of needs on this roster, including two that continue to stand out after the first wave of free agency at wide receiver and interior offensive line.

Texas running back Bijan Robinson seems like a natural fit for the Dallas Cowboys at No. 26 overall after the release of Ezekiel Elliott, but it is difficult to see one of the draft’s most well-rounded prospects falling that far down the board. The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 10), Tennessee Titans (No. 11) and Detroit Lions (No. 18) are just a few examples of teams to watch for an offensive weapon who could make an immediate impact, in a draft without a star wide receiver … Michigan State linebacker Ben VanSumeren blew teams away at the Spartans’ pro day last week with a 42.5-inch vertical, a 4.4 40-yard dash, a 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump and 29 bench press reps. VanSumeren wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but if he had posted those numbers in Indianapolis, he would have topped all 2023 combine linebackers in the vertical jump and broad jump, tied for the best bench press, and finished second in the 40. The Giants hold three seventh-round picks in April’s draft. VanSumeren is a candidate to be one of them, if not an undrafted free agent signing … The Giants have 10 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, which will be held April 27-29 in Kansas City, Mo.: First round: No. 25 overall. Second round: No. 57 (26th of round). Third round: No. 89 (26th). Fourth round: No. 128 (26th). Fifth round: No. 160 (26th), No. 172 (38th) compensatory pick. Sixth round: No. 209 (32nd), from KC. Seventh round: No. 240 (23rd) from Balt, No. 243 (26th), No. 254 (37th) compensatory.

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Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino accepts job at St. John's

Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino accepts job at St. John's

Rick Pitino is back in the Big East Conference.

St. John’s hired the Hall of Fame coach Monday to boost a storied program that’s been mired in mediocrity for much of this century.

The school announced the move on Twitter, and Pitino is expected to be formally introduced during a news conference Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

Following a successful run at nearby mid-major Iona, the 70-year-old Pitino was plucked away to replace Mike Anderson, fired March 10 after four seasons in charge of the Red Storm without making the NCAA Tournament.

Reports quickly surfaced that indicated St. John’s planned to target Pitino, who grew up on Long Island not far from the school’s Queens campus in New York City.

Pitino has been to seven Final Fours and won a pair of NCAA championships, one each at Kentucky (1996) and Louisville (2013).

Louisville players and Rick Pitino celebrate after winning the national title on Monday, April 8, 2013 in Atlanta.

Louisville players and Rick Pitino celebrate after winning the national title on Monday, April 8, 2013 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

He was dismissed at Louisville in 2017 after an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption led to allegations of NCAA violations. It was the third scandal, professional and personal, in an eight-year period with the Cardinals — but Pitino was eventually exonerated in the FBI-related case.

Pitino has been coaching college basketball so long that he was on the opposing bench with Big East rival Providence when St. John’s was a national power in the mid-1980s under Lou Carnesecca.

Now, he’s tasked with invigorating a Red Storm squad that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game — or even reached the Big East semifinals — since 2000. The school has made only three NCAA appearances over the past two decades, the most recent coming in 2019 under Chris Mullin.

During that time, through several conference reconfigurations, St. John’s has fallen behind Big East foes with similar profiles such as Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall.

The Red Storm went 18-15 during a turbulent 2022-23 season, including 7-13 in Big East play to finish eighth in the conference standings. They blew a 14-point lead against sixth-ranked and top-seeded Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, ending the season with a 72-70 loss in overtime that left Anderson with a 68-56 record at St. John’s.

Pitino has a .740 winning percentage in 34 full seasons as a college basketball coach. He has guided five schools to the NCAA Tournament, including Boston University (1983) and Iona (2021, 2023).

He took a surprising Providence team on a memorable run to the 1987 Final Four, but the 2013 national title Pitino won at Louisville (then in the Big East) was later vacated by the NCAA after an investigation found that an assistant coach paid escorts and exotic dancers to entertain players and recruits in campus dorms.

After two years coaching in Greece, he got the job at Iona — a small, private Catholic school located in New Rochelle, just north of New York City.

Pitino went 64-22 in three years with the Gaels, guiding them to two regular-season titles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. Seeded 13th this year, they led No. 4 seed UConn at halftime before getting knocked out in the first round with an 87-63 loss that snapped a 14-game winning streak.

Rick Pitino speaks with Walter Clayton Jr. during a game against the University of Connecticut on Friday, March 17, 2023 in Albany.

Rick Pitino speaks with Walter Clayton Jr. during a game against Connecticut on Friday, March 17, 2023 in Albany. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Pitino posted tweets thanking Iona administrators and “all those people who touched our lives.”

“To my players, the last three years. All I can say is you know how much I love you,” he tweeted. “Follow up, I’m not sad it ended. I’m so grateful it happened.”

Leading up to Iona’s NCAA Tournament game, Pitino said he hoped he can coach for 12 more years.

“But I’ll take six or seven,” he said.

He said it would take “a special place” for him to consider leaving Iona, but he also spoke about how much he admired St. John’s president, the Rev. Brian Shanley, who previously worked at Providence.

Pitino had two stints in the NBA, one with the New York Knicks that featured a division title and a failed stretch with the Boston Celtics that didn’t produce a playoff appearance.

But in college, he endured only one losing season (13-14 at BU in 1980-81).

And now, at a time when Hall of Fame coaching contemporaries like Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim have reached the end of their road, Pitino is going strong and getting new jobs.

St. John’s has the ninth-most wins among Division I teams, with 90 winning seasons in its 116-year basketball history.

The school has reached two Final Fours (1952, 1985) and won the NIT a record six times — including back-to-back crowns in the 1940s when that event was still often considered the country’s premier postseason tournament.

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