Lou Carnesecca began his legendary second stint at St. John’s in 1973. John Thompson arrived at Georgetown in 1972.
The Hall of Fame coaches battled for two decades, wrestling for control of the Big East, duking it out in the 1985 Final Four, combining to help create the country’s best basketball conference.
Forever they will be linked. Forever, the 95-year-old Carnesecca said, Thompson will be remembered.
“He’s really a legend, a giant of a coach,” Carnesecca told The Post after learning Thompson died Monday at 78. “When he spoke, people listened. He’ll be sorely missed, especially at Georgetown and in the Big East. He was a man of great stature and influenced a lot of coaches and African-Americans coming into the field by the way he comported himself, by the way he ran his program. He always ran a clean program. What he did for Georgetown, they always had a good reputation, but he pushed them to another level.”
Carnesecca knew Thompson long before sharing a sideline.
In 1958, Carnesecca was the high school coach at St. Ann’s, trying to slow the Archbishop Carroll big man. Soon after, Carnesecca was a St. John’s assistant, trying to recruit Thompson to Queens.
Then, the coaches truly got to know each other, forming one of the country’s most intense rivalries.
“We had a lot of fun. We greeted each other with some unkind words, but it was just for fun. There was great respect for each other. And him being that size, I had to have great respect for him,” Carnesecca said, laughing. “We had great games. They couldn’t have been fought any harder. Our guys got up for the game and so did their guys. But after the game it was still a great relationship. There was great respect for each other.”
Carnesecca and Thompson’s most memorable moment together came on Feb. 27, 1985, at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s was the top-ranked team in the country. Georgetown was No. 2, the defending national champions.
Shortly before tipoff, Thompson shed his customarily serious front, opening his jacket to reveal a Carnesecca-like ugly sweater — and smile.
“The place was jumping, electric, and all of a sudden he rips off his jacket and he’s got a sweater underneath and he upstaged me. I didn’t mind him upstaging me, but even worse, he beat me,” Carnesecca said. “The battles we had were such good games, I don’t think there were any more highly contested. They were great for the game. We had some great shows.”