Rollie Massimino

Jim Valvano

Lou Carnesecca
Coach Lou Carnesecca leads St. Johnís University to Final Four appearance in NCAA Basketball Tournament and other notable coaches including Jim Valvano.

Although Italian American participation in basketball in the first half of the 20th century was limited, it made a singular contribution via Hank (Enrico Angelo) Luisetti, who fashioned the one-handed shot into a formidable weapon in the 1930s. A few like Ben Carnevale, head basketball coach at Navy in the 1940s, also excelled as tutor and manager. The ethnic group made an even more visible impact in the role of coaches in the last third of the century.

Among those who established themselves in this regard is Lou Carnesecca (1925- ), who was born in New York City of immigrant parents and who began his coaching career in the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization), then St. Ann's High School that became Archbishop Molloy High School. He went on to become the coach of the highly respected St. John's University basketball team from 1966-1970 and from 1974-1992, sandwiching in a three-year tenure as head coach of the professional New Jersey Nets team. The number of victories during his time at St. John's, 526 versus 200 losses, rendered him twenty-fourth in winning percentages among all time Division I winning basketball coaches. Having 18 seasons in which his teams won 20 or more games were among the highlights of his long career that led one rating service to name him National Coach of the Year in 1981 and another in 1985. The capstone of his time at the helm of St. John's occurred in 1985 when his team advanced to the Final Four. In 1991 Carnesecca was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame. He was also honored by the Italian government with the title of Cavaliere and was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.

Among many other Italian Americans who became famous basketball coaches was Newark, New Jersey-born Rollie Massimino who coached the Villanova Wildcats to the NCAA Championship in 1985 - a feat all the more remarkable because his team was seeded in a very inferior post. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1952, Rick Pitino currently enjoys considerable prestige as one of the best basketball minds in the college basketball coaching fraternity. A standout player in St. Dominic's High School, Oyster Bay, Long Island, he began coaching in 1978 with Boston University, followed by Providence University and the University of Kentucky. His success with the latter led to a short-lived stint with the professional Boston Celtics until his 2001 return to the collegiate level with the University of Louisville. Peter J. "PJ" Carlesimo, whose father Pete was also a basketball coach, attained fame as coach of the Seton Hall University team that reached the final championship match of the NCCA in 1989. More recently John Calipari led the University of Massachusetts team to five straight conference titles while Michigan State's coach Tom Izzo has achieved preeminence among his peers. The account of Coach Jim Valvano, self-described "Italian kid from Queens" is a mixture of stunning success mingled with personal tragedy. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood, he was fascinated with basketball as a result of his father's coaching career at a Catholic high school. Although Valvano went on to be a star player for Seaford High School and for Rutgers University, it was in coaching that he made his mark. Beginning with lower echelon programs at Johns Hopkins and Bucknell Universities, in 1975 he became head coach at Iona College and proceeded to completely turn around a second rate program into a national power. In 1980 he assumed the position as head coach at North Carolina State University energetically developing a program that led to an improbable NCAA victory in 1983. For several years he worked as a cable television basketball commentator that brought more fame. Valvano was able to bask in the euphoria of national collegiate championship for only a short period because in 1992 he was diagnosed with cancer that he confronted heroically until he succumbed in 1993.

Although all the basketball coaches covered in this entry managed men's basketball teams, mention should be made of Geno Auriemma, the coach of Connecticut University's women's basketball team. The proud son of Italian-born parents, in April 2003 he guided his team to its second consecutive national NCAA championship. He is equally proud of Diana Taurassi, whose father was born in Italy, and who is currently regarded as the finest women's basketball college player.

Coach Valvano celebrates NC State's 1983 Championship Season
Hank Luisetti
Coach Rick Pitino

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