P.J. Carlesimo's biggest influence? Dad
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"We're just having a lot more fun. I think you can see it in our faces," Deron Williams said Sunday night, after the Nets beat the Pacers for their sixth win in a row, and their eighth in nine games with Carlesimo as interim coach.
There is no telling if they are winning because they are having more fun or having more fun because they are winning. Also, it is too soon to tell whether this streak is just beginner's luck. It is clear, though, that the Nets -- who will host the Raptors on Tuesday night -- have looked and played differently since Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson.
To be sure, there have been some subtle changes in substance, with more pick-and-roll plays like the one Williams and Kris Humphries executed to a big roar against the Pacers. Mostly, though, it has been a change of tone. The new voice in charge is by turns raspy, loud, caustic and warm. It is no secret where Carlesimo gets that from.
Pete Carlesimo, the interim coach's late father, was a Damon Runyonesque New York institution who raised 10 children on a University of Scranton coach's salary when coaches didn't make millions. Later, he saved the NIT.
"Other than my mother, he has had more impact on me than anybody," P.J. said. "It was the type of individual he was, the work ethic, the way he cared about our family, they way he coached. He has had more of an influence on me than anybody else, and continues to."
Pete Carlesimo, who died 10 years ago at 87, was a rough and tumble character who earned the admiration of tough men. He was a buddy of his Fordham football teammate (and fellow Fordham Hall of Famer) Vince Lombardi. When he was the athletic director at his alma mater, Carlesimo became a mentor and close friend of Bobby Knight.
The elder Carlesimo also could be a genial soul and rollicking after-dinner speaker. He would tell the story about how people accused the Fordham football players of never having seen a classroom when they were at Rose Hill, to which he would reply, "We used to pass classrooms on the way to practice and we'd look in them frequently."
"The spot was supposed to be for two minutes, but he ended up being on for six or seven. It was phenomenal," said Frank McLaughlin, who was on the Fordham basketball team when the elder Carlesimo returned to be the school's athletic director in 1968. "I had him come speak to my team when I was the head basketball coach at Harvard. He was one of the great speakers of all time."
His gift of gab persuaded coaches to buy into holding early round NIT games on campuses across the country, and in holding a preseason NIT -- preserving the tradition.
McLaughlin, who was P.J.'s teammate at Fordham and later had his own long run as the university's athletic director, said that the younger Carlesimo inherited his father's generous spirit. "It's a tremendous, tremendous family," McLauglin said. "A lot of people are really happy he's doing well. More than he knows."
It remains to be seen how well Carlesimo will do in a tough stretch of the schedule. It remains to be seen how he will get Williams enough rest and find enough minutes for Humphries, Mirza Teletovic, MarShon Brooks and others who have shown flashes lately.
"It will probably be more challenging. But it's a good challenge," said the interim coach, son of a man who loved challenges.