When you say the name “Louie” at St. John’s University, the smiles that follow are genuine and instantaneous, as few are as loved by the college family as Lou Carnesecca. Coach, mentor and friend to many, Coach is celebrating his 96th birthday this month.
“On behalf of all of our players and coaching staff, I wish a very happy 96th birthday to Coach Carnesecca who is so important to our basketball program,” said Mike Anderson, The head coach, Men’s basketball. “We wish him many more healthy years and thank him for all he has done to help make the St. John’s basketball family what it is today.
A 1992 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inducted, Coach Carnesecca is the most successful coach in the history of the men’s basketball program, posting a 526-200 record at his alma mater. On December 5, 1965, he won his first victory in his first game as a coach, as St. John’s defeated Georgetown 64-62 in overtime.
“Every day is a gift from God, and I am grateful for my long-standing association with the St. John’s family,” said coach Carnesecca.
“My life has been deeply influenced and blessed by the Vincentians who taught me and brought me back to University, the many student-athletes who have played for me, my coaching staff and members of the sports department, alumni and all the great people I have met through my association with St. John’s. “
He added: “I am especially grateful to have had the chance to work with and for my friend John ‘Jack’ Kaiser ’49C, who is one of the founders of the original. BIG EAST Conference. “
In 1985, coach Carnesecca led the team to a Final Four appearance. Over 24 seasons, he’s never failed to qualify for a postseason tournament, including 18 appearances for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament and six at National tournament by invitation.
He left St. John’s for three seasons to coach the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association (ABA), leading the team to the ABA Finals in 1972. He returned to college in 1974.
William G. Schaeffer ’73CBA, Director of Development, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business, played for St. John’s and the Nets, but never under coach Carnesecca. Yet Coach had a profound impact on his life.
“I was recruited by Coach in 1969 to play basketball in St. John’s,” Schaeffer said. “Although I have never played for him, I am forever grateful for his trust and support.”
Rino Grzinic ’77SVC, Director of Development, Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, first worked with Coach at a basketball camp around this time, and the two have remained close ever since. “Coach Carnesecca lifts everyone’s spirits by being there,” said Grzinic. “He really enjoys being with people and cares about them, even if he doesn’t know you. As he has often said, ‘It doesn’t cost you anything to be nice to people.’ “
On 18 occasions, his teams have reached the plateau of 20 victories. Coach Carnesecca has been named BIG EAST Coach of the Year three times and Metropolitan Coach of the Year. He led St. John’s to the BIG EAST Tournament Championships in 1983 and 1986.
On February 11, 1984, he notched his 335th career victory, becoming the University’s most successful coach of all time, surpassing his mentor, Joseph B. “Joe” Lapchick. Seven years later, he earned his 500th career victory, an 81-65 victory over rival Seton Hall University.
He retired from coaching in 1992, and in 2004 Alumni Hall was renamed Carnesecca Arena in his honour. Two years later, the Basketball Legacy Honors went to Coach and nine others: Walter Berry, Sonny Dove, Mark Jackson, Tony Jackson, Joe Lapchick, Dick McGuire, Chris Mullin, Malik Sealy and Alan Seiden.
The recipients represent “the most remarkable careers in St. John’s long and rich basketball history.” The selection recognizes the achievements of each winner in the rafters of Carnesecca Arena.
“Happy birthday to our living legend,” said Mike Cragg, sports director. “For me more important than his age is Coach Carnesecca’s continued impact in being a friend, mentor and leader to so many people in the St. John’s community. Thank you for being a daily reminder and a motivator to always put people first. “