Rick Pitino: Kentucky and St. John's agree to begin series in 2025-26 for 30th anniversary of '96 title

Jack PIlgrimby:Jack Pilgrim05/14/24

It’s official: Rick Pitino will be making his return to Rupp Arena — just not right away, as Mark Pope initially hoped.

The new Kentucky head coach said Monday he was ‘dying for him to come back’ to Rupp Arena, specifically ‘so I can beat him.’

“I’m dying to try and beat Coach (Pitino), man,” Pope told Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. “It’s gonna happen, we’ve just got to work through all those little pieces that get complicated. I just think so much about the basketball world would be right with Coach having at least one more chance to walk back into this building and let Big Blue Nation show how grateful they are for him and how much they love him.”

He made it clear he has ‘no patience’ and wanted Pitino to bring his St. John’s team to Lexington this upcoming season if they could make it work with their schedules.

“I’d like it to happen this year,” he said. “… I have visions of some variation of Apollo Creed rolling in for his first fight against against Rocky Balboa. I don’t know, it should happen, man. If the basketball world is right, that should happen.”

It doesn’t appear Pope will get his wish — at least not initially. Pitino confirmed the home-and-home is on the docket, but will not begin until he 2025-26 season.

Why? It’s the 30th anniversary of Kentucky’s 1996 national championship team, an opportunity to honor one of the greatest groups in the history of college basketball right back where it all started in Lexington. From there, the Wildcats will travel to New York to take on Pitino and the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden the following season.

“For our 30th anniversary next year we will go to Rupp [Arena] and they will return to MSG the following year [2026-27],” Pitino told Adam Zagoria of NJ Advance Media on Monday, adding that the “contracts haven’t been signed but we have agreed.”

Pitino previously accepted Pope’s offer of a home-and-home during his introductory press conference, at the time planning a trip to Rupp Arena this season followed by a return to Madison Square Garden next season.

Close, but ultimately off by a single year. Instead, the two sides will be prioritizing the 30th anniversary of the 1996 championship team to tip off the home-and-home series.

I’m sure that’s something Big Blue Nation can get behind.

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