“Louie’s Legacy:” Carnesecca’s Statue Stands Tall in His Arena

TORCH PHOTO/ Alicia Venter

TORCH PHOTO/ Alicia Venter

As the array of glass double doors open to reveal the foyer of the Queens athletic complex, a new bronze statue stands in the forefront. Above it, the words “Carnesecca Arena” are permanently attached to the structure honoring the legendary basketball coach. 

Fifteen years ago, St. John’s University announced a slew of renovations to the arena which was then known as Alumni Hall, and a new name – Carnesecca Arena. 

Now, Lou Carnesecca is immortalized in the arena he built, not only for his achievements as a basketball coach but also for the ways he impacted the people around him. The statue stands as one of Carnesecca’s iconic poses photographed by George Kalinsky at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” Madison Square Garden. 

Carnesecca’s 526 victories at St. John’s are a memorable part of his time at the University, but it’s not what those who know him remember him by. “I ended up being a very good basketball player and the best I could be as a person because of this man right here who has changed so many lives for so many people,” said Jayson Williams, a former St. John’s and NBA basketball player who was coached by Carnesecca. 

Williams’ relationship with Carnesecca was much more than the typical relationship you would expect between a player and a coach. He recounted personal visits from Carnesecca, including to his family home where he spoke to Williams’ father in order to better understand him as a player and a person. It was this personal touch that made Carnesecca “the greatest” in the St. John’s community. 

For Williams, Carnesecca was a mentor not only for him, but also for his family. During the time that he was playing basketball at St. John’s, Williams had two adopted children due to familial circumstances, and Carnesecca was instrumental in their growth. “For that, I’ll be ever grateful,” Williams said, “because he turned them into good human beings also.”

Rev. Brian Shanley, the president of St. John’s, sees Carnesecca as a University icon because of his legacy as a person. “We’re here tonight not because of the numbers, as great as those numbers are, we’re here tonight because of the way that Coach Carnesecca conducted himself when he was the coach of St. John’s,” said Shanley. “He didn’t just win basketball games, he represented the central values of our Catholic and Vincentian University.”

Carnesecca himself agrees with the sentiment that his impact on others is far more important than his career accolades, and asks others to consider life beyond the game. “Victories, defeats, they’ll soon be forgotten, but the relationships which you’ve built with the people you come in contact with, good or bad, will last a lifetime,” said Carnesecca.  “The game is important but it’s only a small part of your life.” 

Three decades after his last season at St. John’s, students know Carnesecca’s name despite never interacting with him personally. It’s clear that it’s not because of the victories or the defeats, but because of the way he imprinted the values of St. John’s on those he knew. Now, beginning with the 2021-22 basketball season, every Red Storm basketball player will see Carnesecca’s bronze statue as they enter the arena that bears his name.