Feb. 11, 2010
NEW YORK, N.Y. - (AP) Jim O'Connell -
A team loaded with local talent good enough to produce four first-round draft picks. A team with a Hall of Fame coach who talked the way people expect New Yorkers to talk. A team that was good enough to reach No. 1 and get to the Final Four.
Mullin, Berry, Wennington, Jackson and Carnesecca dominated the headlines and airwaves 25 years ago. On Thursday night, most of them were on hand as the last St. John's team to reach No. 1 and the Final Four was honored at Madison Square Garden.
"There have been a lot of great teams at St. John's," said Lou Carnesecca, who got 31 of his 526 career wins that season. "That was a team that if it didn't get to the Final Four, it would have been a disappointment. A lot of people expected us to go."
Led by two-time All-America Chris Mullin, 1986 AP national player of the year Walter Berry, one-time NBA career assists leader Mark Jackson and three-time NBA champion Bill Wennington, St. John's captured the imagination of a city that's tough to charm. New Yorkers, even those without St. John's ties, were pulling for the Redmen, especially against Georgetown and its All-America center Patrick Ewing, who handed St. John's three of its four losses that season.
The Hoyas beat St. John's in the national semifinals and then lost to Villanova in the title game. It is still the only time three teams from one conference reached the Final Four.
Mullin, who played for the 1984 and 1992 U.S. Olympic teams and had an outstanding NBA career with the Golden State Warriors, said St. John's was even a favorite of people on the other side of the country.
"On the West Coast, it was incredible how many kids, when I first went out there, because of the Big East TV package, kids would rush home and watch games at 4 o'clock," Mullin said. "They would ask me about Willie Glass and Walter Berry. It was incredible. They're not kids anymore, obviously, but they asked about St. John's, and not just St. John's but the Big East in general. The whole thing was unique at the time, the timing of the whole thing. We were very lucky to be part of it then, the Big East Conference."
Wennington, who joked that he prepared to play with Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls by passing all the time to Mullin, said he is recognized on the streets of New York for his days at St. John's.
"We had won two championships with the Bulls, and I was walking down the street in New York with (teammates) Steve Kerr and Luc Longley and the Bulls equipment manager and people started walking by and yelling `Bill Wennington, St. John's. How are you doing?' And they looked at me like, `What did you do?'" he said as he laughed. "I'm proud of that."
Things are a lot different around the St. John's program today. It's been eight years since the Red Storm reached the NCAA tournament and with the team struggling near the bottom of the Big East, it's likely this will be the sixth time in the last seven seasons it will finish with a losing record.
"It's important for New York to have a good team and it's important as part of St. John's history," Wennington said. "It would be nice to have this team playing in March and hopefully that will happen."
Reserve forward Ron Stewart easily made the longest trip to attend the 25th anniversary reunion. He traveled from Paris, where he is the director of basketball operations for Luvallois, a professional team that has former St. John's player Lamont Hamilton on the roster.
"It was a great opportunity to see the group that went to the Final Four," he said. "Except for Chris, I haven't seen any of the guys in a long time. This will be special and, who knows, maybe this could be the impetus to something good."