College of Charleston vs. St. John’s — A dream come true for John Kresse

St. John’s basketball coach Steve Lavin (left) introduces former College of Charleston coach John Kresse to the St. John’s team during a practice on Wednesday. The Red Storm and the Cougars play during the opening round of the Charleston Classic today at 5 p.m. Buy this photo

As a kid, John Kresse would sneak into Madison Square Garden to watch the St. John’s University basketball team practice.

The Charleston Classic

Auburn

Location: Auburn, Ala.

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 15-16

Coach: Tony Barbee is 27-36 in 3rd year at Auburn.

Baylor

Location: Waco, Texas

2013 record: 2-0

Last season: 30-8

Coach: Scott Drew is 159-124 in 10th year at Baylor.

Boston College

Location: Boston

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 9-22

Coach: Steve Donahue is 31-35 in 3rd year at Boston College.

College of Charleston

Location: Charleston

2013 record: 1-0.

Last season: 19-12

Coach: Doug Wojcik is 1-0 in 1st year at C of C.

Colorado

Location: Boulder, Colo.

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 24-12

Coach: Tad Boyle is 48-26 in 3rd year at Colorado.

Dayton

Location: Dayton, Ohio

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 20-13

Coach: Archie Miller is 21-13 in 2nd year at Dayton.

Murray State

Location: Murray, Ky.

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 31-2

Coach: Steve Prohm is 32-2 in 2nd year at Murray State.

St. John’s

Location: Queens, N.Y.

2013 record: 1-0

Last season: 13-19

Coach: Steve Lavin 24-14 in 3rd year at St. John’s; 168-92 overall in 9 seasons.

On Wednesday, Kresse was an invited guest at the Red Storm’s afternoon workout.

Kresse stood on the court that bears his name at TD Arena, chatting with St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin while the Red Storm players practiced in preparation for today’s game against the College of Charleston in the opening round of the Charleston Classic.

It was a surreal moment for Kresse, who was still having trouble comprehending the scene.

Kresse, the College of Charleston’s head coach from 1979-2002, played at St. John’s from 1961-63 for legendary coach Joe Lapchick. He was an assistant coach for 11 seasons for the Red Storm under Lou Carnesecca before coming to Charleston. His ties to the St. John’s program and New York City are deep and only rivaled by his fierce loyalty to the Cougars and the Lowcountry.

“Never in a million years would I have ever imagined that my alma mater, St. John’s, would come to the Port City and play against the College of Charleston on our home floor,” Kresse said. “This is a game made in heaven for me. It’s a dream for me and I hope I never wake up. It’s just an exciting time for me on so many levels.”

Prior to Wednesday’s practice, Lavin asked Kresse to address his team.

“John Kresse is a legend in college basketball circles and at St. John’s and I thought the kids should meet him,” Lavin said. “He blazed a trail for guys like me, so it was an honor for me to have him talk to the kids.”

Kresse, who was 560-143 in 23 seasons with the Cougars, is still trying to come to grips with the fact that ESPN will be televising a tournament on the College of Charleston’s campus. He still remembers coaching at the Silcox gym when he first arrived in Charleston and later at the Johnson Center. He never got a chance to coach at TD Arena.

“In 1978, I was coaching games at Madison Square Garden,” Kresse said. “So to go from that to the Silcox gym and the Johnson Center was a bit of a culture shock for me. To have a Big East team, a storied program like St. John’s, here and for ESPN to televise it on national television, is very, very special.”

The importance of the moment for Kresse and the Cougars’ program wasn’t lost on current College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik.

“To come from New York like coach Kresse did and to be associated with a program like St. John’s for as long as he was, it must have been an unbelievable moment,” Wojcik said. “I’m glad coach Kresse was around to see this happen. He was the one who laid the groundwork, the foundation, for this to happen. I doubt we’d be here right now talking about it if it wasn’t for all his hard work.”

Despite his strong ties to St. John’s, Kresse emphasized that he’s a Cougar now.

“I hope that both teams play to their full potential,” Kresse said. “Even though St. John’s has a special place in my heart and always will, I’m routing for a Cougars victory. If it goes into overtime, even triple overtime, and the Cougars win by a point, that’ll be fine with me.”

Triple overtime? Wojcik wasn’t sure that would be best for the Cougars.

“I hope it doesn’t go into triple overtime. We’d be worn out for the rest of the weekend,” Wojcik joked.

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