Rick Pitino, an assistant coach with the New York Knicks the past two seasons after turning around the basketball program at Boston University, was named head coach at Providence College yesterday.

Pitino takes over the struggling Big East team from Joe Mullaney, who announced Feb. 8 that he would resign at the end of the season. The Friars were 11-20 this season.

"We want to build on the positive," said Pitino, who graduated from Massachusetts in 1974. "People are telling me the well is dry, there is no hope. Well, they told me that at Boston University, too."

Starting in 1978, Pitino led Boston University to a 91-51 record in five seasons and appearances in both the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments . . .

Maryland freshman Wally Lancaster will transfer to Virginia Tech, the Roanoke Times & World News reported. Lancaster quit the Terrapins' basketball team Jan. 21 after playing in seven of its first 20 games. He was averaging 1.4 points per game.

A 6-foot-4 guard from Lanham, Lancaster was named Parade all-America after his senior year at Coolidge High School. He will sit out the 1985-86 season, then have three years of eligibility remaining . . .

Former UCLA basketball coach Larry Farmer is among nearly 50 applicants for the Idaho State coaching position, school officials say. Farmer left UCLA after the 1984 season with a 61-23 record for his three years . . .

South Carolina football Coach Joe Morrison, 47, was hospitalized after undergoing emergency treatment to clear an artery in his heart. Morrison is expected to return in time for the team's intrasquad game next Saturday . . .

Members of Arizona State's baseball team have been given a controversial mood-altering drug to increase performance despite warnings by the manufacturer and many doctors that it is dangerous, according to a newspaper report.

A copyright story by The Arizona Republic quoted the players as saying they were not warned the drug could have serious side effects and, under certain conditions, be fatal. The drug, phenzine sulfate, a hydrazine derivative marketed under the name Nardil, is generally given as a last resort to people suffering severe neurotic depression.

It is being prescribed for Arizona State baseball players by Dr. James Gough, a Scottsdale, Ariz., psychiatrist, the report said.

Use of the drug does not violate Pacific-10 Conference rules.

Gough said he prescribes the drug to help athletes fight depression. He added Nardil is "a shortcut" to making the athlete feel better about himself and able to perform better on the field.

Arizona State baseball Coach Jim Brock said he was aware some of his athletes had used Nardil, but he said he thought they had been told of the potential dangers. Brock also said he had used Nardil.