The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Carnesecca’s New Arena

May 13, 2009

His name boldly graces the fourth largest indoor sports arena in the metropolitan area – one of the biggest buildings on the Queens campus of St. John’s University – but Lou Carnesecca himself has been relegated to a space no bigger than a cubicle.

The famed St. John’s basketball coach and New York hoops icon’s small office is crammed into the eastern-most corner of Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall, a building that houses the University’s Asian Studies program.

The walls of his office are decorated in the style of a freshman dormitory. Framed photos and memorabilia cover every inch and every corner of the room until not even a single speck of wall paint shows through the collage.

The office itself is a small shrine to St. John’s basketball. Among the madness of the walls is a team photo of the first-ever St. John’s basketball team, a clipping of Newsday’s backpage announcing Carnesecca’s 1992 retirement and a small photo of a young Carnesecca shaking the hand of Joe Lapchick – the man who he followed as head coach of St. John’s – in 1946, Carnesecca’s first year as a student of St. John’s University.

“I think Truman was President,” Carnesecca jokes, almost incredulous himself. “And I think LaGuardia was mayor!”

Even while coaching St. John’s (from 1965-1970 and then, more famously, from 1973-1992) Carnesecca was not known as a “screamer,” but when he speaks now, it’s a bit more slowly, and much more softly than in 1985, when he was leading the then-Redmen into the Final Four round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Looie” reached the post-season in every season he coached the team, including that 1985 Final Four appearance. He was selected as the National Coach of the Year in both 1983 and 1985 by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and is among the 285 individuals who have been honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.

But it is here and now that he sits, clad in a tie-less dress shirt and his signature sweater, ready to talk about (and to defend) the current state of the program and the university to which he has dedicated his life.

What may be most surprising, however, is that talking is where it ends for Carnesecca. He says he has no further desire to assist in the basketball operations of St. John’s any more than answering questions when, and if, he’s asked.

“First of all, I’m here in my office,” he says. “I’m not going to get involved with basketball anymore.

“In 1965, I followed [then-head coach] Joe Lapchick and he said to me, ‘Lou, if you want me, you know where to get me. This is your ship now and you have to run it the way you want to.’ When he took the coach from Buck Freeman, Buck Freeman told him the same thing.

“I think they have to run their own ship. If they need me, I’m here, willing to help.”

And with its continuing underachievement, upset alumni and fans, and New York media calls for the job of its head coach, Norm Roberts, it’s a surprise that Carnesecca isn’t come to for help more often.

“I think he’s had a very difficult job,” Carnesecca says in defense of Roberts. “He’s had to start from scratch.

“I don’t think anybody in the history of St. John’s had to take over a situation so difficult, so complex, and I think he’s building a good solid foundation. I think he has. It takes time.”

One of the major critiques of Roberts in his five seasons as head coach has been his inability to land a big-name high school recruit from inside the boroughs of New York City, something that Carnesecca excelled at greatly as head coach. The most recognizable names of Carnesecca’s rosters – Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Walter Berry – all called the Big Apple home.(Carnesecca was once quoted saying that all you have to do to recruit in this city is walk outside. However, in this most recent interview, he claimed it was necessary to “take the subway.”)

“I think it’s very difficult to coach today. Much, much tougher than when I coached,” Carnesecca said. “The competition is much, much greater and at one time not too many people came into [New York] City to recruit. Now they’re all coming into the city. The situation changed from where it was once a local thing, now there are prep schools all over. So you don’t have that closeness that you once had.”

But even though the current forecast is grim, Carnesecca remains optimistic about the future of the Red Storm. He says that all it will take is one or two players to turn the program around and urges fans to look at the big picture of St. John’s basketball.

“People are always impatient,” he says. “It’s a natural inclination, but sometimes you have to wait. You’d like to rush things; especially today, they want it right away. But look at the whole thing: How many years have we been in basketball? Over a hundred years.

“This is one of the great basketball powers of all time; it is. We’re going through troubled waters now but, that’ll change. You can’t have it your way all the time.”

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