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St. John’s names Roberts new hoops coach

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Calling it his dream job, Norm Roberts returned home to Queens Tuesday where he was named the new head coach of the St. John’s men’s basketball team.

“If I cry my boys are going to kill me,” Roberts said. “So I can’t do that.”

But he did.

Joined by his wife, Pascale, as well as legendary coach Lou Carnesecca, St. John’s president Rev. Donald Harrington and athletic director Dave Wegryzn on the dais, the 38-year-old Springfield Gardens native passionately spoke about returning home and building St. John’s back to the program it was when he was at Springfield Gardens High School.

The youngest son of a retired New York City detective and a registered nurse replaces Mike Jarvis, who was fired in December and takes over a team that stumbled through a 6-21 season that included several embarrassing off-court incidents.

St. John’s needed a coach with local ties, and it needed someone to repair the damaged relationship with area high school and AAU coaches.

And it got just that in Roberts, who played for Kenny Fiedler and with former Knicks star Anthony Mason at Springfield Gardens — winning the PSAL title on the Alumni Hall floor — who was a non-scholarship player at Queens College where he is among the school’s leaders in points, assists and steals.

“The AAU coaches, the high school coaches in this city can relate to me because I’m just like them,” Roberts said. “It pains me to see guys who are from New York City wearing other uniforms. It pains me. Guys winning national championships who should be playing at St. John’s.”

He started his coaching career at Archbishop Molloy, learning the trade from legendary coach Jack Curran. He moved on to Queens College, where he was 24-84 in four years as head coach.

“I think Norman is outstanding, not just as a person but he’s an outstanding recruiter,” Curran said. “He recruited everywhere he’s gone. I feel like Norman is one of my guys because he was with us and he started with us.”

Roberts, who was an assistant coach under Bill Self for the past nine years at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas, signed a five-year contract for an undisclosed amount of money.

“I think all those places that we’ve been prepared me for this position,” Roberts said. “It’s not going to be easy at all but it’s so much fun. The battle, the competition, that’s what makes it fun.”

After meeting Harrington Monday night, Roberts was offered and accepted the job Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Roberts was among three finalists for the job. DePaul’s Dave Leitao and former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty were the others. John Calipari, Chris Mullin and Manhattan coach Bobby Gonzalez were also mentioned as possibilities.

“As president I’m well aware of the fact that many people have strong opinions about different people who would be the best one, and I tried to find the person who had all the right qualities and also could be the unifier,” Harrington said. “Personally I believe I’ve got that.”

Doherty, a Long Island native, was the choice of influential St. John’s booster Jim Riley, who recently donated $23 million for a new practice facility.

“Jim Riley’s donations to the university have never come up in the midst of my seeking his advice and so many other people’s advice,” Harrington said. “There’s been no indication that there was any tying of the two together.”

Wegryzn called Doherty Tuesday morning to inform him he wasn’t going to be the next St. John’s coach. Wegryzn declined to mention what specifically was said.

Roberts thanked Curran, longtime Queens College athletic director Doc Wettan and Self for giving him a chance. And he said after speaking with the remaining Red Storm players and the incoming recruits, he is going to establish a coaching staff.

While nothing is in place yet, Roberts did say he had one specific person in mind as one of his assistant coaches. According to several sources, that person is Roberts’ former Queens College teammate Glenn Braica, the associate head coach at St. Francis College.

“What we need to do is get back to the identity of winning,” Roberts said. “This is one of the top 10 winningest programs in America and we’ve got to get it right back there, and I believe we can.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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