Pitino: St. John's made crucial recruiting mistakes after Carnesecca

Andy Lyons - Getty Images

Rick Pitino's New York ties run deep, and he knows the importance of St. John's to the city's game.

Inheriting a roster of seniors from the previous coach Norm Roberts in 2010-11, current St. John's coach Steve Lavin had little time to recruit his own players and shape his own team. It was a tall task, filling the "Ark."

Less than two years later, he has filled the roster with 13 scholarship players. St. John's will go to battle with a team consisting of entirely Lavin's personally-recruited athletes in 2012-13, something coaches can rarely say at the beginning of their third season.

He has convinced young kids from all over the country (and, in many cases, the world) to come to St. John's to revamp what had been a dormant program. The Johnnies now have players originally from Detroit, Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago, along with France, the Dominican Republic, and Africa.

The Johnnies are from all over the map, but that's not the way it used to be. For years, St. John's focused recruiting on the Northeast and dominated the New York area, bringing in the best talent from the best local programs.

It's what Lou Carnesecca did so well during his tenure at St. John's - working the New York City high school basketball scene, getting young talents like Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, and Walter Berry to stay home.

Since Carnesecca retired in 1992, the landscape of recruiting has changed dramatically.

Only now - twenty years later - is the Red Storm getting up to speed, and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino thinks that time wasted was the worst thing the program could have done.

"I've always felt that the mistake that St. John's made after Louie was that they didn't recruit outside of the city," Pitino told the Rumble on Wednesday at Big East Media Day. "In Louie's time, he could do that, when it wasn't the world of AAU basketball."

Not only was college basketball so inherently different twenty to thirty years ago, but so was New York itself. There is so much activity and opportunity that makes New York the best city in the world, and the city's changes have only made the greatness more evident.

"I grew up on 26th Street in a brownstone. We lived in the basement, my grandparents lived in the middle, and my aunt and uncle were upstairs," Pitino continued. "Except for Park Avenue, the city wasn't as affluent back then. Today, this city is the greatest city in the world. But back then it wasn't."

As the numerous college basketball programs in the metropolitan area have found out the hard way, fewer and fewer New York City recruits are seeking to stay within the city limits. Unlike the days of Carnesecca, everyone is sending their players to prep schools - making it difficult for schools like St. John's to get them to come back home.

"Coach Lavin can go to Chicago and to Indiana [to recruit], because now the kids from all over the nation want to come here," said Pitino. "The way St. John's will get back [to prominence] is to recruit outside of the city, and that's something they've begun doing."

Throughout the years, people have talked about the Red Storm's need to re-instill its roots in the recruiting pipelines of New York City. It's something coach Norm Roberts attempted valiantly, which has provided Lavin a stepping stool.

But what is more important are the national ties, which Lavin has brought to St. John's on its highest level in the program's history. Never in a million years would anyone have thought in 1985 that the Johnnies' most talented players in 2012 would be from Houston (D`Angelo Harrison), Los Angeles (Amir Garrett), Akron, Ohio (JaKarr Sampson), the Dominican Republic (Orlando Sanchez), or Nigeria (Chris Obekpa).

The list goes on. And so too does time.

With time, things are rapidly changing. Basketball is still the same game in terms of rules and standards. But the way it is operated has an entirely new face.

Rick Pitino is right - St. John's was late to the party. But with Steve Lavin running the show, the Red Storm will continue to draw recruits to the greatest city in the world.

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