I’m starting to wonder just how seriously the St. John’s community is taking the resurrection of its basketball program.
I already know the administration is taking it seriously, having shelled out over $1 million annually for the services of men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin. And I know the athletics department is taking it seriously, because not only did Lavin just complete a 21-12 season in his first year with the program, he’s got the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, according to ESPN.com’s rankings, for the upcoming 2011-12 season.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how seriously the rest of the St. John’s community is taking the program’s resurgence. Sure, I can still see all the “We Are…St. John’s” posters hanging in the windows of nearly every major building on campus, and I’ve certainly seen more St. John’s hats and t-shirts throughout New York City than in past years, and during this past season I saw fewer empty seats around Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden than in the past.
But something still irks me. The support doesn’t seem quite honest enough.
Last week, on a routine trip to the Fitness Center, I glanced through the windows in the doors leading to the court at Carnesecca and saw four kids—not basketball players, mind you, students like me and you—chasing a basketball around the same floor the men’s and women’s teams call home.
And I’ll tell you something else: It’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen.
In fact, I’ve seen it happen so frequently in my three years at St. John’s that I began to think Carnesecca Court was as much a recreational court as the blacktop outside Montgoris and the hardwood at Taffner Field House—and that students were generally allowed to play there.
Turns out, Carnesecca Arena is not a rec court, but is, however, used without much resistance. I spoke with the Public Safety official on duty in the Carnesecca lobby that night last week, who told me that even though students are not permitted on the arena floor, there isn’t much policing done because the doors are seldom locked, and even if they were, students could easily get to the floor by walking down the stands on the second floor.
“They see an open court and just go for it,” he said.
But Carnesecca Court isn’t just any court. It’s where Chris Mullin used to shoot jumpers past midnight in the 80s. It’s where, a few weeks ago, the Red Storm wrapped its first 20-win regular season since 2002. It’s where Kim Barnes Arico has built the women’s program from irrelevance to top 25 contender.
It is THE home floor of St. John’s basketball. Apparently, that means less to some people than I thought.
St. John’s has gone to great lengths to take itself seriously as a basketball institution again, with the eventual goal being the same national prestige as Duke and North Carolina.
So I called Duke and North Carolina’s athletic departments. They nearly laughed me off the phone upon my asking whether students can play pickup basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Dean Smith Center.
“It’s closed except for, you know, official business,” the Carolina representative at the Smith Center told me.
Official business. College Basketball. Of course students aren’t allowed to play pickup ball on the same floor Michael Jordan—who, by the way, went on to become the greatest to ever play the game—played on in college. That is downright ridiculous—like trying to play catch on the field at Yankee Stadium after Babe Ruth was finished taking batting practice.
Basketball at Duke and North Carolina is practically a religion, worshipped by every teacher, student and campus employee. Playing on the floors at either arena would cheapen the overall basketball culture at those Universities—like helping yourself to the tabernacle after the priest puts away the Eucharist.
And what becomes of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Smith Center when the Duke and Carolina teams aren’t playing ball? According to officials from both arenas, the home floors are locked up, jealously guarded, held sacred—until their next official use.
Here’s the kicker: Belson Stadium, Jack Kaiser Stadium and Red Storm Field—the three stadiums located on campus that the St. John’s soccer, baseball and softball teams call home—all stay locked when St. John’s games and practices aren’t happening. The same thing done at Duke and Carolina is done here at St. John’s, but not for basketball!
Why is Carnesecca Arena treated differently? Why don’t kids go sniffing around at Belson but waltz right onto the court at Carnesecca? Because the giant lock around the gate at Belson is enough to keep people away. Because somehow, people just seem to know you can’t play soccer at a Division I soccer field unless you are a Division I soccer player.
It is quite disturbing that more painstaking lengths aren’t taken to secure Carnesecca when basketball games are not in session, especially considering all it would take is the turn of a key and a short walk around the building every so often. What is even more disturbing is the sense of entitlement kids have to play on the court in the first place, rather than treat it with the reverence that it deserves.
Rather than jealously guard it at all costs, until the next order of official business takes place.