St. John’s remembers…

More than 150 coaches, players, managers, trainers and fans from eras past and present united on Dec. 15 for a three-panel discussion, enjoying a free exchange of memories and successes on the hardwood throughout the history of St. John’s men’s basketball at the 100 Years of Basketball Symposium.

Athletic Director Chris Monasch commenced the event with a welcome to all and restated some features of the year-long celebration. He disclosed the date of the 100th Anniversary Gala to be held on March 7, where a 25-member All-Century Team will be honored. He also made mention of the Anniversary Game against West Virginia at Madison Square Garden on March 8.

Associated Press sports writer Jim O’Connell, who is also the author of the St. John’s basketball commemorative coffee table book, gave the introductory remarks on the exciting “rollercoaster ride” he has been on since he joined the St. John’s family. O’Connell took the audience on a trip through the program’s first win over Adelphi in 1908, the 1910-11 Helms Foundation Championship (St. John’s first national achievement), the 1927-1931 “Wonder Five” who went on a 88-8 record in four seasons under head coach James “Buck” Freeman, and the many triumphs under legendary coaches Joe Lapchick and Lou Carnesecca.

“I’m going to stay on that ride for as long as I can,” O’Connell vowed.

The symposium was split into three categories: “The Early Years,” “Classic Times,” and “The Modern Era.” Guests on the panel included popular basketball alumni Dick McGuire (1943-49), Bill Shea (1944-45), Gerry Houston (1962-65), Mel Davis (1970-72), Frank Alagia (1972-1976), Tarik Turner (1994-98) and of course legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca.

The event was moderated by Phil Pepe, a New York sports reporter for five decades, who worked for such publications as the New York Daily News. The first panel “The Early Years” was comprised of Tom Tolan, Bill Shea, a former team manager Jack Griffin, and Dick McGuire. The panel discussed how big collegiate basketball was in the city that, at times, college games took place at Madison Square Garden, while professional basketball games had to be moved to the 69th street Regiment Armory. Each also recalled fond memories of the head coaches of their day: Frank McGuire and Joe Lapchick.

“He treated me like he was my father,” McGuire said of Lapchick.

The second panel “Classic Times” was composed of Carmine Calzonetti, Gerry Houston, Mel Davis, and Gerry Lawrence. These basketball alumni and contributors to the successes on the hardwood spoke about the formidable competitors of their period,
especially during the time when St. John’s was not a part of the Big East Conference, but listed as Independent.

Calzonetti mentioned Boston College and the Philadelphia schools, such as Temple University, as being the big rivals during his years at St. John’s, while Houston brought up Holy Cross College, Fordham University and Manhattan College. Davis, who continued the sentiment of Houston, despite playing in the St. John’s uniform five years later, added Notre Dame University to the list. And, Lawrence saw a time when New York University posed heavy opposition.

During an intermission, players and coaches of old seemed to come together for short reunions with those who were a part of their respective basketball classes. The camaraderie among these alumni was so heartfelt it was tangible.

Pepe introduced the third and last panel of the afternoon, “The Modern Era.” This group included Frank Alagia, who Pepe said was known as the “best of the little men at St. John’s,” George Johnson, Tarik Turner and Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca. Johnson spoke of his journey as a player going 48-3 in two of the four years of his collegiate career. Meanwhile, Alagia talked of the surroundings of Madison Square Garden during the Holiday Festival, when he was an All-American and a teammate of Johnson’s. Turner mentioned his collegiate playing days, “mentoring the younger guys” of St. John’s basketball, and how his participation with the St. John’s Radio Network allows him to still be a part of the program.

The audience listened intently as Carnesecca spoke of the team’s many successes on the court during his years as assistant coach under Lapchick and as head coach. Also, those in attendance enjoyed small anecdotes from some of Carnesecca’s former players in the audience. When asked how he felt about seeing so many of his former players at the event he answered, “They make you very proud. It’s a wonderful tradition.”

Carnesecca merged the old with the new in the closing minutes of the third panel discussion, concluding the event, as he addressed the future of St. John’s basketball with the newest class of the 100th season.

“Just be patient,” Carnesecca said. “If they stay here, they are going to make us proud.”