Living legend

Legendary. Honest. Class Act.

Those are just a few out of hundreds of adjectives that describe the man behind the golden years of St. John’s University, the man who is responsible for making the Johnnies New York City’s team in the 1980’s.

“We were the city’s team,” Lou Carnesecca said. “As a matter of fact, I think we were the country’s team. The Empire State Building was lit up red and white [during the 1985 Final Four run].”

This season St. John’s will be celebrating the 100th year in the history of its storied basketball program, and no name comes to mind quicker than Carnesecca’s when thinking about that history.

When Carnesecca began to recruit what would become a powerhouse in the early 1980’s with players like Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, and Mark Jackson, he knew that his team could go places.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Carnesecca said, “but when you get those types of players, you’re going to be somebody that is a contender.”

The pinnacle of Carnesecca’s career was the then-Redmen’s thrilling run to the 1984 Final Four, where Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas ended St. John’s season.
“We had to go to the final four,” Carnesecca said. “If we didn’t go, it would have been a big disappointment, but when we went it was a great relief and a great feeling of accomplishment.

“You could feel the buzz and the electricity around the city.”

Carnesecca’s legend is not built just on the merits of the 1984-85 season, though. Also on his resume are 526 career wins at St. John’s, 18 NCAA Tournament and six NIT qualifications, two Big East titles and one Final Four appearance.

When Carnesecca announced he would be retiring from coaching in 1992, he had no second thoughts. The man who played such an integral part in making St. John’s the fifth winningest program (at the time) in college basketball history knew it was time to close the book on a 24-year coaching career that became one of the most fabled in collegiate basketball.

“I got burnt out,” he said. “I just knew [the retirement] was coming. I didn’t miss [the game] though because I left in good taste.”

But aside from all the remarkable stats and records Carnesecca has compiled, much of his lore is simply a result of his kindness, a product of the Vincentian mission that he buys into.

“We [were successful] very quietly,” Carnesecca said. “We never blew our horn, because that was in the true Vincentian spirit.”

Although Carnesecca has been out of coaching for 15 years, it’s clear that he still knows the game. He believes that the group of players St. John’s has put together this season has the ability to go places.

“I like what I see,” Carnesecca said. “They’re basketball players, and I think it could be the start of turning it around. They just need to keep these kids together.”

As the saying goes, there will never again be another Lou Carnesecca. Hopefully, though, the winning tradition he brought to the University can be restored.

“We always enjoyed a very fine tradition,” he said.

Thanks to him, St. John’s has.