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Rick Pitino raves about Speedy Claxton and Hofstra’s development

After 14 years, the two programs renewed their rivalry and hope to maintain it

NCAA Basketball: CAA Tournament Semifinals Game One - North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks vs Hofstra Pride
Speedy Claxton is 1-2 against Rick Pitino since taking over at Hofstra.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hofstra and St. John’s battled to a tightly contested 84-79 finish at UBS Arena that saw the Red Storm prevail behind some late game heroics from Daniss Jenkins Saturday afternoon.

Despite fewer than 20 miles separating Carnesecca Arena and the Mack Sports Complex, this matchup marked the first time the Pride and Johnnies faced off since December 2009.

A Long Island native himself, Hofstra head coach Speedy Claxton was grateful for the opportunity to play a local high-major program and thought it offered a lot to the New York basketball scene.

“The positives: we played against a local opponent on a big stage, and we held our own,” Claxton said. “Previous [St. John’s coaches] I guess chose not to play us, so I’m happy that coach [Rick] Pitino got the job.”

For St. John’s, with Stony Brook, Fordham, and Hofstra on this season’s schedule, it’s clear there’s a desire to develop those relationships with the local programs.

Even after the hard fought victory, Pitino raved about his counter part’s coaching abilities and the development he’s seen from the Pride during Claxton’s tenure in Hempstead.

“I’ve shaken hands with Dean Smith, Frank McGuire, Lou Carnesecca, from Bill Self to every great coach that’s been in this country and I was close friends with John Wooden,” Pitino said. “So don’t exaggerate this, but Speedy Claxton’s one of the best coaches I’ve coached against in my lifetime.”

Pitino, a Long Island native as well, reflected on a relationship with the Hofstra head coach that extends back to his days on the sidelines with the Boston Celtics.

“I said last year at Iona that [Claxton] is a rising star, and I don’t want him to leave Hofstra,” Pitino said. “He was a great player who I worked out with at the Celtics, and now he’s a great coach. So, I’m really proud of what he’s done on the sidelines, and I’m thrilled that we came away with a win.”

Claxton expressed optimism about playing St. John’s on a regular basis.

“Once [Pitino] got the job, I knew that he would definitely be into playing us and not just for this year,” Claxton said. “Hopefully we can get this to be a yearly thing.”