It's a rarity when St John's ventures into the home gym of one of its New York-area basketball rivals, but the Red Storm (5-2) will do that tonight when it meets Fordham (4-4) in Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx. It will mark the first trip there for St John's since 2002.
The Johnnies have won their past nine games against area schools based in New York. Their last loss was to Hofstra on Dec 29, 2006 in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. The Pride was coached by Tom Pecora, who took over Fordham this season and already has doubled the number of wins the Rams had last season when they were 2-26.
Pecora's interest in the St. John's job was well-known when it opened up last spring, but his phone never rang. St. John's went after coaches from larger schools before landing former UCLA coach Steve Lavin. So, Pecora made the jump to Fordham in the Atlantic-10 Conference, which is a multiple-bid league at NCAA tournament time.
Don't think Pecora isn't anxious to foster a local rivalry with St. John's. When the Atlantic-10 held its preseason media day at Chelsea Piers, Pecora was asked to say a few words to his fellow coaches and the media at the luncheon. He couldn't resist poking fun at St. John's.
"I was here early for another event and went to the bar to get a club soda," Pecora began, drawing laughter from the crowd. "Why is that funny? Do you know me?
"The bartender said, 'Oh, you're the new coach at Fordham. I'm a St. John's guy,'" Pecora continued. "I said, 'Oh, it's good to see you're doing a lot with that degree.' There were a couple guys to my right, and one said, 'Pal, before you tell any St. John's jokes, I want you to know I played rugby at St. John's. I'm 6-3, 230 pounds and I'm an alumnus. And the guy next to me is 6-5, 250, and the guy behind him is 6-6 and 270 and we all have degrees from St. John's. Do you still want to tell St. John's jokes?'
"I said, 'Well, not if I've got to explain it four times.'"
Ba-dum-bum. All Pecora was missing was a rim shot. He was in fine form that day as he went on to explain how lucky he felt to have the job at Fordham and to be working in athletics with people he admires. To underline the point, Pecora told a joke about his family, saying, "Our youngest guy, Sean, who's 8, said, 'Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a coach.' And I said, 'Sorry son, you can't do both.'"
So, it is in that spirit that Pecora welcomes St. John's to Rose Hill tonight for a friendly rivalry he would like to see become an annual event on the local basketball scene as both schools work to make college basketball matter again in New York.