5 Minutes with P.J. Carlesimo

February 19, 2013 – On February 12, I spent a few hours with Brooklyn Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo for a “5 Minutes with…” feature that will appear in the April Issue of Yankees Magazine.

I have long been a fan of Carlesimo for several reasons. First, I am from South Orange, New Jersey, where Carlesimo coached the Seton Hall Pirates basketball team from 1982 through 1994, and secondly because I believe that he has carried himself with the same class and dignity in good times and in bad times.

Carlesimo spoke candidly about some of those good times, including the 1989 season, when he led the small Catholic university in a relatively unknown town in New Jersey to the NCAA Championship Game in Seattle.

“No school ever enjoyed the Final Four experience more than Seton Hall did,” Carlesimo said. “We had just burst onto the national scene, and the theme of so many stories that year was where is Seton Hall? Most basketball fans outside of the New York area literally didn’t know where South Orange was. After that season, fans accepted that we were a good team, but in 1989, people couldn’t believe we accomplished so much. That made the whole experience special.

“When we got back from Seattle, there was like an impromptu parade from Newark Airport back to campus, and a few days later there was an orchestrated parade in South Orange,” he continued. “We were a Jersey team, and it seemed like the whole state was behind us. We were a feel-good story.”

Carlesimo also discussed the uniqueness and special qualities of South Orange and Seton Hall.

“We had a tiny campus, and a relatively small student body,” Carlesimo said. “The fact that we were a small school, but yet were on national TV a lot and were nationally ranked never changed what the school was all about. When we recruited players from out of state, they would walk onto campus and ask ‘Where’s the rest of the school.’ But that’s what makes Seton Hall special. The players liked the fact that they could walk down the street to Bunny’s, which was a neighborhood pizza place, and they could also get on a bus to New York City.”

Before the interview — which took place in Carlesimo’s office at the Nets practice facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey — concluded, I asked the life-long Yankees fan which Yankee he would want to coach, if he could choose any player from the past or from the present-day team.

“ Derek Jeter,” Carlesimo said without hesitation. “He’s everything that’s good about professional sports and the Yankees. As great of a player as he is, the way he’s handled playing in New York City is even more impressive. So many other athletes struggle in New York and don’t do the right things off the field, but that’s not the case with Derek. He could write a textbook on how to excel as one of the best professional athletes to ever play in this city.”

To read the rest of the interview, pick up a copy of the April Issue of Yankees Magazine, which comes out on April 1.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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