When St. John’s University is not playing at Madison Square Garden under the bright lights of New York City, they can be found at their small campus out in Queens. Since 1961, the Red Storm have played most of their non-conference and non-marquee basketball games at the arena orginally known as “Alumni Hall.” This is a program with a lot of history, as the Red Storm are the seventh-winningest NCAA school and have reached the Tournament 27 times. The glory years of the 1970s and 80s were led by Lou Carnesecca, a beloved coach who made St. John’s a hot ticket in NYC. Carnesecca was honored in 2004 by the school renaming the arena, and a few years later, the facility got a nice refurbishment that enhanced the look and character. While the Red Storm have not been as successful the last few decades, it is worth a trip out to Queens to check out St. John’s basketball in a much more intimate setting.
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Hopefully one is not claustrophobic if they are seeking food. The primary concession stand is located in a very narrow hallway behind one of the sideline seating sections, and people line up on two sides to meet in the middle. Options are not extravagant, as they include hot dogs ($3.50), cheeseburgers ($5) and pizza ($6). A Jamaican beef patty is the other lone meat item. Snacks typical for a sporting event (popcorn, pretzel, etc) can be found here, along with a couple of the corner stands, which are quicker to get to. Coca-Cola ($3.50) is the soda provider and excluding alcohol, other types of drinks are offered as well.
There is much more of a college feel to Carnesecca Arena, compared to St. John's other home at MSG, and that is certainly welcomed. The recent refurbishments helped to give the arena some color and character, as red is prominent throughout and team displays/banners can be found along the way. A new video board above center court is also a nice touch, as it shows live game video (but replays were curiously unavailable at the game I attended). As far as seating, most of it comes on the sidelines, which is separated into three sections. Optimal seats are in the lower "Courtside Level," as these are chairbacks with the best view. Further up, bleachers have individualized bottoms, though space is still limited between each person. Legroom is also minimal at best, as it is hard to stand and let someone pass by the aisle. The highest section of seating is obstructed by a low ceiling, so seeing the video board may be difficult from up top. Behind the basket are two small sections reserved for students. Overall, it is an OK place to watch a game, and for an arena over 50 years old, it has held up and looks to be home for many years to come.
Carnesecca Arena is also a better place for that college feel, as the band is playing in the corner and more students can be found at the game. While not to be mistaken as a top arena atmosphere in the Big East, I would be curious to see what would happen to the atmosphere if a big-named opponent played here instead of at MSG.
Queens is the easternmost borough of the five that make up New York City, and it is full of many smaller neighborhoods. St. John's University is right on the imaginary border between Jamaica and Hillside, though most people associate the school with Jamaica. While the immediate surroundings aren't bad (it's almost even briefly suburban, if arriving from the west on Union Turnpike), there is nothing that entices the visitor to stick around before or after the game. Along the main nearby road, a classic city neighborhood includes a row of adjoining stores and restaurants. For those looking to dine, the Sly Fox Inn and Turnpike Café are a few stops worth looking into.
Outside of the immediate area, Queens is known for Flushing Meadows Corona Park, about a 15-minute drive away. In addition to being home to Citi Field and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the grounds include an art museum, Science Hall and of course, the interesting remains of the 1964 World's Fair.
St. John's fans number many, and this is certainly the college team with the biggest following and most media coverage in NYC. Supporters of the Red Storm generally are passionate, and I heard quite a few colorful conversations about the team's struggles in the parking lot coming in. However, overall fan support seems to have dropped off since the heyday of the Redmen about 20-30 years ago. Games at Carnesecca Arena are hardly sold out (even with a capacity less than 6,000), and the contest that I attended featured an arena about two-thirds full. The atmosphere is more "sit back and watch," as opposed to some other schools in big conferences where crowds are more vocal and proactive.
Getting to Carnesecca Arena by car is surprisingly easy, thanks to a plethora of expressways and highways that reach the area. While the Grand Central Parkway is closest, I found coming from the Clearview Expressway (I-295) easiest, as Exit 2 leads right to Union Turnpike and St. John's is just a mile or so down the road on the left. After entering either Gate 3 or Gate 4, plenty of parking can be found right next to the arena. Traffic can be an issue, but weekend games are easier to drive to than those during a weekday.
Surprising for a city that relies heavily on mass transit, arriving by train or subway is not as simple. The closest station is about a 20-30 minute walk to the arena. Via subway, the end of the F train runs to Hillside Ave, while commuters via the Long Island Rail Road can stop at the Jamaica station. Neither are optimal choices, so driving to the game is best, if possible.
Inside the arena, the opening entrance is curious in its setup. Fans enter through doors to a security screening; however, the actual ticket takers are off on the side. This makes it awkward if fans want to return to this open space later in the game or at halftime. Bathrooms are also far too few for the capacity of the building. Only a pair for each gender is available, and they are both quite small.
Parking is free and concessions are cheap, while the ticket prices aren't too bad. They range from $25 to $40, and for the quality of play, the whole outing is worth the investment. While the seats higher up should be a bit cheaper and more affordable for families, everything else is cheap enough to make the visit.
Lou Carnesecca holds a place in the heart of St. John's fans, and the University does a great job honoring his legacy. In the main entrance area, various accomplishments and memorabilia for the athletic program can be found on the back wall. Included is a section reserved for Louie, and one of the items includes an example of his trademark sweaters. On occasion, Carnesecca can be seen at the games, and he still remains an integral part of the program.
Carnesecca Arena provides an experience much different than the alternate home of St. John's basketball, Madison Square Garden. At this small gym on campus, fans experience an intimate setting more typical of the college game. Recent refurbishments have added character to the place, and tasteful honors for long-time coach Lou Carnesecca enhance the experience. While there are some drawbacks to a game here, taking in a contest provides a different perspective of the program.
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.
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.
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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