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From Redmen to Red Storm

It didn't take much for Mark Jackson to sign a letter of intent to play for St. John's.The year before he was a freshman for the Redmen, in 1982-83, the team was 28-5, won the Big East tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament. Coach Lou Carnesecca brought home the nations' coach of the year award.Not a very difficult decision for the Brooklyn native.But the Bishop Loughlin product knows that recruits today aren't hit with the same selling point. St. John's isn't a perennial power like it was in the 1980s. Which is why he feels that the school's legacy honors ceremony Friday night and the hanging of 10 banners to commemorate the school's greatest coaches and players is so important."It gives the recruits something to say, 'One day I want to be hanging up there,'" Jackson said. "'Look at those guys. Look at what they've accomplished. I want to have my name and number hanging up in the rafters at St. John's.'"Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Dick McGuire, Tony Jackson, Lloyd "Sonny" Dove, Alan Seiden, Joe Lapchick, Malik Sealy, Mark Jackson and Carnesecca all had their names raised to the ceiling of Carnesecca Arena that night. They all had their names hung on the faade of Madison Square Garden Saturday during a ceremony at halftime of the St. John's/Pittsburgh game.And it doesn't Rivals or Scout.com to realize what a boon this could potentially be to bringing top New York City players again."That's one of the things that I think about when I go to UCLA, as I go to Chapel Hill (N.C.), Kenny Smith's [former University of North Carolina and Archbishop Molloy star] camp," Jackson said before the game. "When you look up, it reminds you, it puts it in your face the tradition, the history, the guys that came before you. You're like, 'Wow, it's amazing.' St. John's has so much [tradition] that it was almost criminal not to recognize that."Now it has been recognized and it can only be seen as a positive for St. John's fans, supporters and potential recruits. Not even because high school kids know the names of the men hanging from St. John's two home arenas. But because they will know that if they have a good enough career, they could be honored in such a way.Junior forward Lamont Hamilton reiterated that sentiment after his team's upset of No. 9 Pitt. During a stoppage of play, the 6-foot-10 big man glanced over to the seats behind the St. John's bench where the five legends who were present (Mullin, Carnesecca, McGuire, Jackson and Berry) sat. One thing ran through his mind as his eyes passed over the former greats."I just thought that, hopefully, one day that could be me," Hamilton said.The institution has never retired numbers nor honored players in such a way before this weekend. It was obviously a source of inspiration for the current team, as it beat the previously undefeated Panthers, 55-50."They are playing for the players that came before them," said current coach Norm Roberts. "To respect that tradition, you have to play with pride when you put on that uniform."Pride was felt all around on both days, especially in one third-grader's heart. Malik Sealy Jr., son of his late namesake, the second-leading scorer in St. John's history, spoke about his father in front of the hundreds in attendance at the private Friday night ceremony. The smooth-shooting Bronx native was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in 2000.The 8-year-old later told his mother, the senior Malik Sealy's wife, on the ride home that it was the best day of his life.The whole experience had Mark Jackson feeling like an adolescent again, as well."I might look cool," said Jackson before standing on the fabled Garden floor and having his name announced among the nine other legends. "But there's going to be a kid inside of me running around."Reach contributing writer Marc Raimondi by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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