Frank Alagia was just like you Sunday, if you happen to live and breathe St. John’s basketball, if the torturous wait for a verdict from the NCAA Tournament selection committee made you suffer and bleed a little bit extra.
“You started to wonder,” Alagia said Monday, laughing. “You know?”
You know. Maybe you don’t know the way Frank Alagia can know, because he played four elegant years of point guard for St. John’s from 1972 to 1976, quarterbacking some of the most exciting Johnnies teams of the pre-Big East era, graduating as the school’s all-time assists leader, playing in a pair of NCAA Tournaments, as a freshman and a senior.
But you know, because if you are from here, if you grew up here, if you care about basketball, then the chances are you’ve cared about St. John’s in your lifetime. Odds are, even if you went elsewhere for college, there was a time when St. John’s games were as much a part of who you were as your taste in music and your favorite actor.
The Knicks have always ruled New York and even in repose they are the basketball agenda, the unifying force for all of the boroughs and all of the suburbs, even if the Nets are quietly trying to clog those access roads. But St. John’s was there, too. You always knew St. John’s was going to represent our basketball city well, and almost always in March.
And seeing the name on a bracket line — even if it is one of the Dayton outbrackets, even if it was as the 68th team in a 68-team bracket, even if there were some folks, even St. John’s fans, who shook their heads and wondered just how mediocre the sport must have become if a 21-12 team that couldn’t stay out of its own way most of the final month can be included — it doesn’t really matter now.
“The kids get another chance,” Alagia said, “and Chris gets a shot. It has to make you feel good.”
That has been the special part of this story the past few years, of course. When Chris Mullin was hired, it was to almost universal acclaim: The golden player from the school’s golden era coming home, where it all began for him. It hasn’t been a smooth path. And this year, after a 12-0 start (that should have been 15-0, if the first Seton Hall game hadn’t been heisted at the end of Game 13), there were so many missteps, so many games that turned out terribly.
They went from 12-0 to 21-12, and that shakes out to a 9-12 finish, and that’s not what anyone had in mind.
“If we don’t get in the tournament,” Alagia said, “then there’s no question people would have said this is a disappointing year.”
“But here we are,” Alagia said.
Here they are. And here you are, those of you who used to wave those red “We are … St John’s!” placards at the Garden, those of you who may go all the way back to DeGray Gym or the Old Garden, or maybe to any of the great NIT teams, back when St. John’s and the NIT were about as good as basketball in New York got.
Maybe you just go back to a time when Mullin was young and fearless, when he chose Lou Carnesecca and St. John’s over Mike Krzyzewski and Duke, when he made you believe there was no other basketball show you’d ever want to see. Brandon Tierney was 11 years old and tearing up the CYO in that magical winter of 1985, and there was no other player he wanted to be.
“If you were a kid, Irish or Italian from Flatbush or Marine Park?” he said. “Forget about it. That’s the only guy you wanted to be. He was the only one that matters. He was one of us. He was ours.”
Now Tierney is a longtime member of St. John’s radio team, and it still feels a little surreal for him to be sitting courtside, a few feet away from Mullin and the team that taught him so much about being a sports fan.
“I think if you’re in the vicinity of my age,” he said, “you are always going to view St. John’s through a romantic prism.”
It’s why even the skeptics among the St. John’s fan base seemed to soften overnight. Maybe the Johnnies don’t belong in the tournament, but who are they to argue?
“Hey, you look at the tournament and it’s wide open,” Frank Alagia said. “Why wouldn’t you start to dream a little?”
If not now, after all, when?
Source: Read Full Article