Unable to win consistently in the Big East, which has produced a long-term lack of attendance at Madison Square Garden and even Carnesecca Arena on campus, St. John's will try to wake the echoes by honoring the 1985 Final Four team tonight at halftime of its game with Louisville at the Garden. The supposed cherry on top of the celebration is the unveiling of a new Nike uniform.
The Red Storm (12-10, 2-8 Big East) hopes, too, to produce a more positive result against the Cardinals (15-8, 6-4) after losing five straight in conference play. St. John's has held leads into the second half in six of eight conference losses, but finishing has been a major problem, as it was on Saturday when the Johnnies blew a 15-point lead with 18 minutes to play in a 79-60 blowout loss to West Virginia.
But enough of the present. It's more fun to think about the past and coach Lou Carnesecca's greatest team, featuring Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Bill Wennington, Mark Jackson, Willie Glass, Ron Stewart, Shelton Jones and Mike Moses among others. Now that was a rotation.
Roger Rubin of the Daily News wrote a fine piece about that team today: http://is.gd/8an4S. I took over the St. John's beat at midseason that year for Newsday, and my memory is different from Rubin's story on one point. It's possible Glass worked his way into the starting lineup, but I recall Glass, Jackson and Jones coming off the bench behind the other five.
It was a phenomenal season in the original Big East, and it ended with the most shocking result of all when Villanova became the team to upset Georgetown for the NCAA title by playing what I referred to in my game story as "The Perfect Game," comparing it to Don Larsen's World Series gem in 1956. Too bad St. John's couldn't have drawn Memphis in the semis like Villanova did. After upsetting Georgetown in Washington in January, the Johnnies got pounded in the return match at MSG and again in the semis at the Final Four.
But what a season it was, and what a great run to reach Lexington with three teams from the Big East. Of course, Carnesecca's brown sweater with the ugly chevron on the front became the iconic symbol for that team. Writers covering the team were given lookalike t-shirts by the late and lamented sports information director Katha Quinn. I might even have mine stuck away somewhere, though it certainly doesn't fit anymore and it's not the sort of thing you would be caught dead in.
The joy when St. John's beat North Carolina State to win the West Regional on a snowy night in Denver was unbelievable, especially to see Carnesecca finally reach the Final Four. But for some reason, the moment I remember most came on a Saturday afternoon at Syracuse, where St. John's won in a blowout. At one point, Mullin had a fast-break layup, and he bounced the ball hard off the floor and then went up and got it and flushed a spectacular dunk. That was the exclamation point on a blowout win.
I was sitting courtside in an empty Carrier Dome crafting my story long after the place had emptied when I heard the sound of bouncing basketballs and looked up to see Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim leading his team back onto the court for a full practice about 90 minutes after the humiliation by St. John's. Those were the days for the, uh, Johnnies. They weren't called the Red Storm then, you know.
Oh yeah, the new uniforms that will be unveiled tonight will honor that '85 Final Four team with a chevron that represents Carnesecca's sweater somewhere in the design. Frankly, it sounds like a very busy design because it also is said to have five stripes for the "Wonder Five" that brought St. John's basketball to prominence plus a representation of the iconic ceiling at MSG plus clouds and lightning that evoke the nickname "Red Storm" plus an SJU seal and a reference to the establishment of the university in 1870.
Whew! Hope for the best and pray it doesn't turn out like some of the mad concoctions Nike has come up with to outfit the University of Oregon's football teams.