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Tribute to legendary head coach unveiled in Carnesecca Arena lobby
Before a crowd of St. John's players, coaches and friends spanning more than 70 years of the program's proud history, the University unveiled a statue of legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca on Saturday evening in the lobby of the arena that bears his name.
Carnesecca, 96, was in attendance for the ceremony, as was Jack Kaiser, 95, his former athletic director and assistant coach. Dozens of Carnesecca's former players from his nearly four decades with the St. John's men's basketball program were also present on the Queens campus.
The program began with introductory remarks from Athletic Director Mike Cragg.
"We have many special friends here and all of you are connected to the man of honor," said Cragg. "This is a place that celebrates people and in my time here, I can't think of anybody that celebrates people on a daily basis more than Coach Carnesecca. Your heart and soul are a part of all of us. I want to say thank you for all you've done for St. John's. I want to say thank you for all you've done for college basketball, college athletics and for humanity."
Next to the podium was former St. John's and NBA star Jayson Williams, who regaled the crowd with stories from his playing days under Coach Carnesecca before touching on how much Coach meant to him beyond the game of basketball.
"I ended up being a very good basketball player and the best I could be as a person because of this man right here who has changed so many lives for so many people," said Williams. "He's not a man of second chances, he's a man of another chance, because we've all wasted our second chances. You don't have to be perfect to be around Coach and I'm far from it, but the most perfect person I have ever met in my life is Coach Carnesecca."
Williams then ushered Carnesecca to the stage, as the 1992 Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer took the microphone.
"I'm just delighted and I feel touched," said Carnesecca. "I haven't seen the statue yet, but from what I gather, people say it's very nice. But as I've said before many times, Michelangelo couldn't have helped my face."
After showcasing his signature wit, Carnesecca then reflected on the relationships he built during his decades with the University.
"Victories, defeats, they'll soon be forgotten, but the relationships which you've built with the people you come in contact with, good or bad, will last a lifetime," said Carnesecca. "The game is important but it's only a small part of your life."
Carnesecca then recognized Kaiser, his lifelong friend and another monumental figure in the history of St. John's, the BIG EAST and college athletics as a whole.
"If it wasn't for Jack I wouldn't be here," said Carnesecca "A great man. He brought me to St. John's not once, but twice. To him, I'm forever indebted."
The final remarks before the unveiling were delivered by St. John's University President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P.
"Mike [Cragg] used a term to describe Coach Carnesecca tonight, he called him iconic," said Shanley. "That's a word that's been thrown about a lot, but it in this case it's actually true. Someone who is iconic is someone who represents the central values of the institution. And we're here tonight not because of the numbers, as great as those numbers are, we're here tonight because of the way that Coach Carnesecca conducted himself when he was the coach of St. John's. He didn't just win basketball games, he represented the central values of our Catholic and Vincentian University. He was someone that we could all be proud to be associated with St. John's because he was our coach. And at the end of the day the most important thing for a coach is not winning, but it's really what impact you have on your players."
Following Shanley's words, a protective cloth was removed from the statue and the hundreds in attendance were able to gaze upon the awe-inspiring statue, which replicates a pose of Carnesecca's made famous by a George Kalinsky photograph taken at Madison Square Garden.