Venerable former St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca and a cast of former players headed by Chris Mullin and Bill Wennington came to Madison Square Garden last night to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Final Four team. But the subtext was about the struggles of the 2009-10 team and the future of coach Norm Roberts after six seasons and no sign of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Roberts' name wasn't mentioned in a delicate pregame news conference that danced around his uncertain job status. But if there was one thing Carnesecca, Mullin and Wennington agreed upon, it's that the Red Storm must recruit better, especially in the New York metro area, to return to national prominence.
"Get one guy to ignite this thing and they could turn it around," Carnesecca said. "That's all you need. Get a couple of guys, and they make you a pretty smart coach. It's probably more complex than maybe I'd like to put it."
It's complex, all right, and there was no shortage of potential future St. John's coaches in the building last night. Wennington opened the door to his college coaching aspirations. Although Mullin was reluctant to address the notion of coaching, he didn't slam the door on it.
Mark Jackson was noticeable for his absence from the reunion, and most presume it was because he harbors coaching ambitions he didn't want to address with Roberts still in place. As if that weren't enough, Rick Pitino, who some have speculated might be a candidate for a St. John's opening, was sitting on the Louisville bench at the opposite end of the Garden from Roberts.
But Roberts gained a little relief from the criticism as St. John's dominated Pitino's team, 74-55, to snap a five-game Big East losing streak. The Red Storm (13-10, 3-8) opened the game with a 12-0 run and never was caught.
D.J. Kennedy topped the Red Storm with 15 points and Justin Burrell added 14. Samardo Samuels was the only double-figures scorer for the Cardinals (15-9, 6-5) with 18.
As for the former St. John's stars and their concern for the program, Wennington said, "Every successful team has had a coach that has a plan that everyone buys into."
Regarding his interest in college coaching, the current Chicago Bulls radio analyst said, "Yes, if it was the right situation. I'd entertain the idea."
Mullin, who lost his job as general manager of the Golden State Warriors last spring, said he hasn't considered coaching.
"I'm enjoying my time away ," said Mullin, who left before the halftime ceremony to attend NBA All-Star festivities. "Not really, but who knows?"
At the same time, Mullin maintains his ties to St. John's and would love to see the program succeed.
"I think it's important," Mullin said. "Not only for the school, I think it's important for New York to have a good team. If you can win here, I do think kids will take notice and stay.
"It's an important part of St. John's University, and it always has been with the great history. It's nice to have a big-time team in this arena come March, and hopefully, it will happen."