Queensline: St. John’s coaching legend’s Queens roots run deep

Courtesy of St. John's Athletics

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Born Luigi P. Carnesecca on Jan. 5, 1925, in Manhattan, Lou Carnesecca is a former men’s basketball coach at St. John’s University in Queens.

Carnesecca graduated St. John’s in 1950, and was the head coach at his alma mater for 24 seasons. He led the former Redmen to a record of 526 wins and only 200 losses, as well as five Big East regular season titles, two Big East Tournament titles and an NCAA Tournament Final Four appearance in 1985. The legendary coach retired in 1992 after winning his fifth conference title, and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the same year.

Carnesecca grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and attended high school at St. Ann’s Academy, which moved to Queens and was renamed Archbishop Molloy High School in 1957. After graduation, the young man put his basketball career on hold to serve the nation in the Coast Guard during World War II.

After the war, Carnesecca returned home and graduated from St. John’s University in 1950. He returned to his high school to coach basketball, and became an assistant coach at St. John’s in 1958. He took over as head coach in 1965, and went on develop the basketball team into one of the nation’s elite college programs.

Carnesecca briefly left the catholic university in Queens to coach at the pro level. As head coach of the New York Nets in the now defunct American Basketball Association, he led his team to the 1972 ABA Finals. The following year, however, he returned to his alma mater. 

During his tenure at the helm of the Red Storm, Carnesecca became known for his colorful, kaleidoscope-like sweaters and animated and energetic sideline coaching style. The New York native filled his rosters primarily with homegrown talent, and he led them to 18 20-win seasons, with back-to-back 30-win seasons in 1985 and 1986. Carnesecca’s St. John’s squad made it to the NCAA Final Four in 1985, beating legendary North Carolina State coach and Queens native Jim Valvano along the way. His 1979 and 1991 teams also advanced in NCAA Regional Finals.

Coach Looie, as he was called by fans, compiled a roughly 69 percent winning percentage over his 24 seasons at St. John’s. Living in Astoria while leading his team to national prominence, he was twice voted National Coach of the Year by the United States Basketball Writers Association and once by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He was also honored as Big East Coach of the Year three times.

Carnesecca averaged 22 wins a season as head coach at St. John’s and reached the postseason every year. After retiring as the winningest coach in school history in 1992, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as well as the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

In 2004, Alumni Hall, which hosts women’s basketball games for the Red Storm and some men’s games as well, was renamed Carnesecca Arena. At age 94, he is still involved in the St. John’s basketball program, and still considers the Queens campus his home.

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700.

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