August 17, 2022

It has been 22 long years since St. John’s won a Big East Tournament championship, 22 long years since Mike Jarvis became the first coach…the only coach…since Lou Carnesecca to uphold a once-proud tradition and light a fire inside the Garden.

The memories come rushing back to Jarvis, memories of beating Duke in front of the Cameron Crazies and defending national-champion UConn three times with an undersized, defiant band of junkyard dogs.

“We were on a roll,” Jarvis told The Post. “It was a hungry group of guys, most competitive group of guys I probably have ever coached. Our schedule had prepared us well for the Big East Tournament.”

Villanova fell in the quarterfinals, then the Johnnies survived Miami — and themselves — in the semifinal.

“That weekend was not void of controversy and conflicts within our team,” Jarvis said. “As competitive as the guys were, and as well as they played together on the court, they at times were as combative off the court.”

So much so that Erick Barkley and Bootsy Thornton had a locker-room altercation at halftime against Miami.

“Erick was getting on Bootsy about defense, and Bootsy didn’t take kindly to it. … We almost had to play the game without our starting point guard the second half,” Jarvis said. “But he came out, and they played like they were the best brothers, which they were on the court.”

Barkley decided he was taking a leave of absence at the worst possible time.

“We went back to our hotel, the drama continued,” Jarvis recalled, “and we thought we were gonna have to play the championship game the next day without Erick.”

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There would be no shootaround at the Garden.

“We went back to the college and tried to mend our wounds,” Jarvis said, then added with a chuckle, “We had a team meeting instead of a practice.”

Big East
Bootsy Thornton and Lavar Postell host the Big East championship trophy,
Nury Hernandez

In the locker room at what was then Alumni Hall the afternoon of the championship game, Barkley apologized to Thornton and the team.

“At that point, we asked the team to basically make the decision as to whether or not they wanted Erick to play in the game or not,” Jarvis said, “and man for man as we went around the locker room, they basically said that they wanted to have him come back and join the team, and that’s when every player — including Bootsy and the coaches, the managers, everybody — wanted Erick to be back.

“I guess years before, Connecticut used to buy up all the tickets,” Jarvis said. “It was like a Connecticut home game. The house was full of St. John’s fans. We had more fans in our building like we should have had than Connecticut. The place was alive. It was electric. … The only other night that I can remember the Garden being as electric was probably when we played Duke.”

Mike Jarvis II, now associate director of athletics/associate director of athletic development at Fairfield, was by his father’s side that night.

“The year before was a very pro-UConn crowd,” Jarvis II told The Post, “and that year the St. John’s fans came out and swallowed up a bunch of the tickets. When St. John’s is really good like that year, there’s no better place than the Garden or any St. John’s game.”

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It was an emotional, roller-coaster season during which Barkley had endured two NCAA suspensions. Anthony Glover, the 6-foot-5 center from The Bronx, hit a pair of huge free throws down the stretch. It ended St. John’s 80, UConn 70.

“Everybody just felt such a feeling of relief,” Jarvis said. “You also we’re looking forward to the next day [Selection Sunday] knowing that the party would continue. As excited as you were, it would be a great Sunday.”

Jarvis, following successes at Boston University and George Washington, had replaced Fran Fraschilla in 1998 … and had St. John’s in the Elite Eight that season before losing to Ohio State. The 2000 team beat Northern Arizona in the NCAA Tournament before losing in an upset to Gonzaga.

“When I took the job, the Knicks were not playing well,” Jarvis recalled, “so you had sort of an extra kind of burden on you because you were representing New York. For a guy with a Boston accent coaching in New York, at times that was rough.”

He will be 77 next month, and he is currently an adjunct professor and special assistant to the president at South Florida Bible College & Theological Seminary.

“I remember the first time I met with the guys the day I signed to coach St. John’s, we had a team meeting at the office that used to be Lou’s,” Jarvis recalled. “I remember Ron Artest [aka Metta World Peace and now Metta Sandiford-Artest] saying to me, ‘Hey Coach. Do you really think we can win a national championship?’ And I remember saying to Ron, ‘I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t.’ So from the first time that I ever met the guys, I knew that the guys were serious about winning … as serious as I was.”

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SJU
Mike Jarvis cuts down the net at MSG after St. John’s wins the Big East Tournament in 2000.
Nury Hernandez

As serious as Lou Carnesecca always was before he retired in April, 1992. Jarvis remembers Carnesecca’s joy that night.

“Louie came in and hugged the guys, kissed the guys … that always made it special having Louie in the house and having Louie be part of the team,” Jarvis said. “The pride that he has always had in St. John’s was incredible.”

Jarvis was replaced in 2004 by Norm Roberts. Who was replaced by Steve Lavin. Who was replaced by Chris Mullin. Who was replaced in 2019 by Mike Anderson. Who was looking to survive and advance against DePaul on Wednesday night, and see and hear and feel how the Garden embraces New York’s College Team.

“I think the only place that compares to it would be Cameron Indoor,” Jarvis said. “But the Garden, it’s the World’s Most Famous Arena for a reason.”

And it deserves so much better.