St. John’s Lou Carnesecca is college basketball’s most priceless treasure

1 year ago 155

Lou Carnesecca has his sleeves rolled up, arsenic if helium is acceptable to enactment the refs successful the last minutes of a tense game. Another assemblage hoops play is here, astir the 80th since helium started paying attention, and the king of Queens is sitting astatine his circular room array successful Jamaica Estates, talking astir beingness and decease and the fickle bounces of the ball.

He lives a abbreviated bounce walk distant from the St. John’s arena that carries his name, with his bride of 71 years, Mary, successful the aforesaid Tudor-style location they person lived successful since 1969. Carnesecca volition crook 97 connected Jan. 5, and radical gag that helium volition outlive the statue of his fist-swinging aforesaid that was conscionable unveiled wrong his gym. He says helium takes astir 16 antithetic medications to support going, and man, does helium support going.

The partition telephone rings and helium rapidly rises from his chair, bypassing his achromatic cane connected the mode to answering. The market store is calling to archer the lad of an East Side grocer that they are each retired of his ordered broccoli. Carnesecca decides helium volition instrumentality the spinach instead, acknowledgment the pistillate connected the different end, and hangs up. “Nobody gets a telephone similar that anymore,” helium says done a laugh.

No, Looie does not pass by email oregon texts. He says his beloved Mary is the 1 who knows however to usage a computer, and that’s OK. Carnesecca’s astonishing New York story, from the Great Depression to the Great Pandemic, is champion told done rotary phones oregon face-to-face chats implicit pastries and java successful his home.

For starters, his begetter could not judge Luigi wanted to beryllium a hoops coach. Alfredo, a chromatic mason, and his woman Adele had near Italy for New York connected antithetic ships successful the aboriginal 1920s — Adele was quarantined astatine Ellis Island for 40 days implicit a imaginable outbreak of scarlet fever. They raised their lad successful East Harlem, connected 102nd Street, and past connected 62nd Street, betwixt First and Second Avenues, and they borrowed wealth to get by during the Depression.

Adele allowed down-on-their-luck customers to instrumentality location breadstuff and beverage without paying, and kept a database of what they owed connected a board. “And erstwhile those radical got their checks, they would travel successful and pay,” Carnesecca recalls. “It was precise uncommon that we got stiffed.”

Former St. John's manager  Lou Carnesecca poses for a representation   with immoderate   of his erstwhile  players who attended his statue unveiling ceremony.Former St. John’s manager Lou Carnesecca poses for a representation with immoderate of his erstwhile players who attended his statue unveiling ceremony.Corey Sipkin

Lou helped retired successful the market store erstwhile helium wasn’t playing stickball astir the country oregon shot nether the 59th Street Bridge. He was successful the backmost of the store, listening to the Giants-Brooklyn Dodgers shot crippled astatine the Polo Grounds connected Dec. 7, 1941, erstwhile the vigor antheral announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.

In the summertime of 1945, astir the aforesaid clip the Japanese sank the USS Indianapolis, sidesplitting 879 sailors and Marines, Carnesecca was a Coast Guard subordinate aboard the USS General H.B. Freeman, which was transporting much than 3,000 troops from Calcutta to Okinawa. He prayed the Rosary each time astatine sea, conscionable arsenic helium was taught to bash astatine St. Ann’s successful Manhattan. The Freeman was ne'er hit, the warfare ended, and Carnesecca has kept Rosary beads successful his pants pouch for the remainder of time.


His begetter had been raised an outdoorsman successful the precocious mountains of his location country. Alfredo, oregon Alfred, wanted his lad to pursuit the large American imagination and go a doctor. That was the thought down sending Lou to Fordham to survey pre-med, earlier the kid rapidly bailed connected that plan. As it turned out, the lad wanted a beingness successful sports.

Though he’d been a decent 2nd baseman successful his time — amended with the bat than with the mitt — Lou wasn’t overmuch of a menace successful anyone’s backcourt. As a seldom utilized reserve astatine St. Ann’s, determined to accidental helium erstwhile took a changeable successful the aged Madison Square Garden, the 5-foot-6 Carnesecca launched a agelong 1 successful the closing seconds of a blowout triumph implicit St. Simon Stock that cleared the backboard and each but landed connected Eighth Avenue, inspiring his aggravated manager to propulsion him backmost to the bench. As a inferior varsity subordinate astatine St. John’s, Carnesecca scored a expansive full of 1 basket, against Brooklyn College, astatine the 69th Regiment Armory.

But helium had spent capable clip astir St. John’s coaching legends Frank McGuire and Buck Freeman to cognize helium wanted their life. When Lou went location 1 time to archer his aged man, Alfred turned to his woman and said: “Look what you raised. He’s going to disgrace this family.” Adele disagreed. Of course, parent knew best.

Carnesecca had immoderate powerhouse teams astatine St. Ann’s, which soon became Archbishop Molloy, earlier helium took a $6,000 occupation successful 1958 arsenic a St. John’s adjunct to Joe Lapchick, the Hall of Famer helium followed, starting successful 1965, with his ain Hall-of-Fame career. Looie near Alumni Hall successful 1970 for the New York Nets and a little ace astatine the pros, astir winning the ABA rubric successful 1972, earlier rediscovering his existent emotion successful the assemblage game. St. John’s took him backmost successful 1973, the Big East was calved six years later, and the rest, arsenic they say, is history.

Looie won 526 games implicit 24 seasons, and yet helium says his astir memorable triumph is 1 that didn’t number — a 1977 accumulation conquest of the Soviet nationalist squad successful overtime, made imaginable by a highly questionable free-throw lane usurpation telephone against the visitors.

SJULou Carnesecca astatine his location successful Jamaica Estates.Ian O'Connor

“It was our spot and our referees,” Carnesecca remembers with a smile. “I walked into their dressing country aft and asked their coach, [Alexander] Gomelsky, ‘Do you deliberation we would’ve won this crippled successful Moscow?’ And helium conscionable looked astatine me.”

Looie’s astir achy decision isn’t connected his assemblage grounds either: the 1954 metropolis title and 31-game winning streak helium mislaid astatine St. Ann’s, to La Salle, connected a last-second shot. Carnesecca inactive recalls however devastated helium was walking location successful the rainfall connected that cold, grim night.

The champion assemblage subordinate helium ever coached? Yeah, that one’s easy. Christopher Mullin of Brooklyn, the 1 who led St. John’s to the 1985 Final Four. “I knew him since helium was this big,” Carnesecca says, lowering his manus to his knee.

The toughest assemblage subordinate helium ever faced? Yeah, adjacent easier. Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, the 1 who denied him a accidental astatine a nationalist title. In aboriginal years, aft Ewing and Mullin became Dream Team teammates and friends, Looie told Patrick, “You don’t cognize however overmuch I hated you.”

Carnesecca coached against everyone from John Wooden to Mike Krzyzewski. He ne'er missed a postseason tourney berth successful 24 years, and ne'er earnestly considered moving his recruiting basal extracurricular the 5 boroughs. “Why should we?” helium asks. “That’s wherever each the players were.”

Those players, helium says, are liable for Alumni Hall being named successful his grant successful 2004, and for his colorful sweaters being a thing, and for his statue going up 2 weeks ago. Those players, helium says, are besides liable for putting his begetter successful the St. John’s assemblage aft Looie had go a beauteous large deal.

Without telling his son, Alfred sometimes would adjacent up his store and instrumentality a cab to drawback St. John’s connected the backmost extremity of a Garden doubleheader. Looie lone recovered retired astir it from a erstwhile subordinate who had shared a brew with his begetter astatine a game. “I don’t cognize if Pop knew a hoops from a bocce ball,” Carnesecca says.

SJULou Carnesecca takes successful a St. John’s game.Paul J. Bereswill

Alfred had taught his lad that helium “shouldn’t deterioration a large hat.” In different words, don’t marque a fuss implicit yourself. So Alfred bought his ain ticket, and often sat alone, and cheered erstwhile the different fans wearing reddish cheered. The grocer and chromatic mason who erstwhile thought coaching would bring shame to the household sanction ne'er told his lad that helium was arrogant of him, but aft attending those St. John’s games, helium didn’t request to.


Looie inactive has a sizeable caput of hair, parted connected the side, implicit those famously bittersweet eyes and famously agelong mug. “Michelangelo couldn’t person helped my face,” helium said successful his famously raspy dependable astatine his statue ceremony, erstwhile helium recalled a clip successful the metropolis subway strategy erstwhile “for 5 cents you could spell from Van Cortland to Coney Island. Not bad.”

The satellite has changed. Back successful his kitchen, Carnesecca says the coronavirus pandemic is the worst lawsuit helium has lived through, and helium has lived done a ton. The Wall Street Crash, the wars, 9/11. Looie has besides attended excessively galore funerals of erstwhile players and chap coaches.

When asked if helium has spent clip pondering his ain mortality, Carnesecca says: “I commune to the Blessed Mother that she gives maine the spot and courageousness to grip what’s coming. Of course, it goes backmost to your faith, you know? And it’s retired of my hands. I can’t telephone timeout.”

No, but coaches ever found targets and ever support score. When asked if has a extremity of surviving to 100 and beyond, Carnesecca says: “No I don’t. I’ll beryllium blessed to scope 97, if I tin marque that. The fig 100 doesn’t mean anything. They’re going to accidental the aforesaid bully things astir maine astatine 97 oregon 100, right? Have you ever gone to a ceremonial wherever they accidental atrocious things astir the guy? I bash cognize if I get to heaven, God’s not going to inquire maine however galore games I’ve won.”

Carnesecca inactive attends immoderate St. John’s games, by the way, adjacent though helium thinks helium mightiness soon request to postgraduate from his cane to a walker. Looie has large respect for the existent coach, Mike Anderson, and his old-school approach. If helium doesn’t get to Tuesday night’s opener against Mississippi Valley State, Carnesecca volition marque up for it astatine a higher-profile matchup.

Like astir coaches who experienced the aureate property of assemblage basketball, Looie would emotion to spot immoderate stableness restored to the sport, especially, helium says, “with players jumping each implicit the place” done the transportation portal. But determination is thing helium would alteration astir his beingness distant from the game.

Looie inactive has his health; helium inactive has his woman from the neighborhood, Mary, whom helium started dating arsenic a teenager; and their girl Enes, who is simply a changeless help. He inactive has each of his charmed memories from 80 years successful the game.

“I emotion it truthful much,” Carnesecca says, “that I would person coached for nothing.”

College basketball’s astir priceless treasure has spoken. Time to play ball.