Rick Pitino didn’t take any victory laps for his first St. John’s recruiting class, which included 11 new players across 55 days.
He got right to work on his second group, relying on his international connections to start the 2024 haul.
Pitino and St. John’s picked up a verbal commitment Tuesday afternoon for 2024 from highly regarded Greek guard Lefteris Liotopoulos of DEKA Academy.
During his time away from college basketball, Pitino coached Panathinaikos B.C. in the Greek pro league, and even briefly coached the country’s national team.
The 6-foot-5 Liotopoulos was also being recruited by Virginia, Stanford and Princeton, and knew if he waited until after the upcoming FIBA European Championships in Serbia this summer, in which he will play for Greece’s national team, he might have picked up other options.
But that didn’t appeal to him, and neither did signing with any of the top pro teams in Greece that were interested in him.
“I understand the fact that I would probably get more offers in the next few months, but it would be hard for me to refuse Rick Pitino’s offer, because he’s a legend in basketball,” Liotopoulos, 17, told The Post in a phone interview. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach. I was watching him coach Panathinaikos. He’s a great coach, a very successful coach.
“In the last two months, he has been calling me and watching my games. I’m very honored for this.”
Pitino was the lead recruiter, and made Liotopoulos feel wanted.
Liotopoulos is planning to make his first trip to New York City by early September and will visit St. John’s at that point.
This year for DEKA, Liotopoulos averaged 23.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals, and shot 36 percent from 3-point range.
He also performed well in Greece’s Third Division, which includes older players, and led his team in scoring. He is considered a top-three Greek prospect for his age.
“He’s a fundamentally sound point guard. He’s a good, not great, athlete. Has a good feel for the game, good quickness,” said Fran Fraschilla, the former St. John’s coach and ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst, known for his knowledge of international prospects. “He’s a very sound, cerebral shooting point guard. Can really shoot it when he’s open. You can tell he has a good feel for the game, which should make him a good college guard. He does everything well for a point guard.”
Joseph Nikolaidis, the DEKA coach, said that Liotopoulos needs to add strength to his frame, particularly to help him on the defensive end.
But he raved about his offensive ability as a scorer, shooter and playmaker.
His greatest asset may be shooting on the move.
“He can play through contact, he can drive the ball. He’s very, very crafty when he gets in the lane,” Nikolaidis said.
Liotopoulos didn’t just pick St. John’s over other colleges, he chose the route less traveled.
Most players in his position from Greece would opt to go professional, but he liked the idea of coming to America to play college basketball and following in the footsteps of countrymen such as Konstantinos Mitoglou (Wake Forest) and Ioannis Papapetrou (Texas).
He has turned down professional opportunities that would have made him ineligible to attend St. John’s.
“I decided to go to college in the U.S. because I want to combine basketball with academics. I know it [will] be very useful after my basketball career,” Liotopoulos said. “It was a little tough to decide, but I think in the future, it’s going to pay off.”