Though the St. John’s University Red Storm plays most of its conference games at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, their true home is Carnesecca Arena on the school’s campus in Jamaica, Queens. Formerly known as Alumni Hall which opened in December 1961, Carnesecca Arena underwent renovations in fall 2004 as part of a dedication ceremony to honor St. John’s Hall of Fame coach, Lou Carnesecca. Carnesecca coached the men’s basketball program at St. John’s from 1965-70 and 1973-92. He won 526 games and reached the postseason every year he coached the team. In 1985, he led the Johnnies to a Final Four appearance.
St. John’s plays in the Big East Conference, which is one of the top conferences in the nation. Star players such as Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) and others suited up for the Red Men/Red Storm. Based on the media coverage in New York, the Red Storm is the most popular local college team. For now, they’re a young team, so the excitement should continue at Carnesecca Arena and the Garden.
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A large concession stand is located behind Sections 1-5 of the arena and offers standard arena selections. Since most of the fans that attend the games are St. John's students, the food prices are reflective of the student body, which benefits all fans. Even if you're unsure where the concession stand is located, just follow the enticing smell of fresh popcorn and you'll find it.
The atmosphere in Carnesecca Arena differs greatly from that of Madison Square Garden. In the Garden, the seats are much more spread-out than in Carnesecca, where fans are offered great views of the action, even in the highest seats. Carnesecca Arena is a sea of red between the fan's St. John's jerseys and the color of all the seats and benches.
During time-outs, the talented St. John's cheer and dance teams provide the fans with entertainment. There are many students on these squads, so the court is basically full at all times. The school's pep band also plays during the games.
The arena features two student sections at each end of the court. The students harass opponents starting in pre-game warm-ups, and then turn around as the opposing team is being announced.
A New York City montage set to the tune of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" precedes the St. John's player introductions.
Be sure to look around the lobby of the arena, where you can get a taste of the great basketball tradition of both the men's and women's teams.
The St. John's campus is located right in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City, so there's always something going on before or after a Red Storm game. It's a bustling area with a melting pot of people, which is reflected well with the campus of St. John's. Wherever you look, there is a place to eat or grab a drink before or after a game. Benny's Kosher Pizza is a highlight and is located right near campus.
No matter where the Johnnies are playing, the fans show up in droves to support their team. The Garden can be distracting for many fans due to the magnitude of the arena, but fans at Carnesecca Arena are able to focus on the action. The fans not only are knowledgeable about their own team, but they can analyze the other teams in the Big East with ease.
While the bulk of the crowd is students, local alumni and even former players turn out each night to cheer on the Red Storm. The students are standing even before the opening tip-off. The "We Are New York's Team" towels are popular among fans. The students wave these fervently as an opposing player shoots free-throws.
Public transportation is the best way to go when heading to Carnesecca Arena, since the parking and navigability of the surrounding area can be difficult. But if you do decide to drive, definitely map out a route and even an alternate route beforehand. Parking on Utopia Parkway is free. Once you arrive on campus, Carnesecca Arena is the building located directly in the middle, right next to Jack Kaiser Stadium, the school's baseball field.
From Manhattan's Penn Station, getting to the campus takes less than an hour via subway.
Though St. John's is a Division I university playing in one of the nation's top conferences, tickets can be quite expensive. Court level seats go for $35, while seats in the upper bowl cost $20. You could probably see some NBA games for less than that price, but definitely not at Madison Square Garden. However, for students, tickets are just $5, which is definitely worth the price of admission.
Once again, the lobby of the arena offers a unique experience. Fans can view life-size posters of each current St. John's player and read their biographical information.
Lou Carnesecca's signature is embedded in each side of the court, which is a nice touch to honor the arena's namesake.
The stadium is also home to the women's basketball team, volleyball team, and men's and women's fencing teams.
The arena features the newly-opened Student-Athlete Center for Excellence, which houses a weight room and cardiovascular room for athletes, as well as offices and meeting rooms.
Carnesecca Arena offers a more intimate feel for watching a St. John's basketball game than the Garden. The team seems to be going through a resurgence, so now is the time to plan your journey to Queens. Many fans try to see games at both the Garden and Carnesecca Arena in an attempt to compare the experiences, but many prefer Carnesecca.
Who knows? You may even see "Sweet Lou" himself in the stands.
Having gotten used to seeing college basketball teams playing in pro-caliber venues, walking into Carnesecca Arena felt a lot like walking into a high school gym at first. But that turned out to be kind of a good thing.
With so much trouble in the world of college sports relating to players and schools behaving as though they are running a professional sports organization, it ends up being quite refreshing to see a team play in a venue that reminds you that these are student athletes who are representing their school, not themselves, on the court.
And of course, once you really examine the facilities at Carnesecca, it becomes apparent that while this looks and feels a bit like a school gym, St.John's and their Red Storm facilities really offer much more than that.
Carnesecca is a bit of the best of both worlds: many of the modern, state-of-the art conveniences offered by pro-caliber venues, but that casual, school-spirit filled ambiance that only an amateur facility and its team can provide.
Obviously, playing at MSG provides a huge attraction for potential recruits and helps keep St. John's in the upper echelon of college basketball. However, games at Carnesecca Arena give the game a different feel. When the students are on campus and the team is playing there, the place gets packed with 6,000 fans and students stomping "DE-FENSE" on the newly renovated bleachers behind the hoops. It's shows what college basketball should be like and sometimes I find myself wishing St. John's would play its bigger opponents there as well.
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