Night of champions: Legends highlight St. Joe's basketball dinner
It was a magical year for the St. Joseph’s basketball team. The Cadets won their 11th state championship under legendary head coach Vito Montelli and, for the first time since 1993, took home the state title in back-to-back years.
While the season was long finished for St. Joseph’s, the magic continued on one last final evening.
On Wednesday night, the Cadets held their annual banquet at the Vazzano’s Four Seasons where they were honored by University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari. Calipari, who led the Wildcats to a national championship this past season, spoke to the crowd of over 200 people and posed for pictures with the team and other members of the school’s community.
“This night is just incredible; it’s great to have everyone back here together one last time,” said St. Joseph’s senior star James Jennings. “My time here (at St. Joseph’s) has been great. I wish I could be here for another year, but all good things come to an end. This was a great way to end it… It was an honor to meet Coach Calipari. He is a great coach; I know I would love playing for him.”
This is the third time that Calipari has spoken at the St. Joseph’s banquet. Calipari, who has known Montelli for over 20 years, also spoke at the dinner in 1993 and in 1996.
“A championship is something these kids will remember for the rest of their lives,” Calipari said. “I’ve come back for (coach Montelli) a couple of times. I’ve always respected him as a man. I knew he was a great basketball coach, but you’re talking about a man of faith and a man of his family. He’s someone I just have tons of respect for.”
While Calipari was the highlight of the evening, he wasn’t the only great basketball mind in the room. CBS Sports analyst and Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis was the banquet’s MC and legendary basketball scout Tom Konchalski gave a heartfelt speech directed towards Montelli and the St. Joseph team.
MSG Varsity’s own Mike Quick was also a guest speaker and gave a spirited speech that was very well-received. Five Star Basketball founder Howard Garfinkel, who is a dear friend of Montelli, was also in attendance.
“(This season) has been very special,” Montelli said at the banquet. “One of the most enjoyable coaching experiences I’ve had and I’ve had a lot of them. I’m proud to have the crowd that we have tonight, we had a full house, and of course, we have four outstanding speakers. You can see that Calipari hasn’t stopped taking pictures with people, but the team deserves it. I’m just so proud of these kids and my coaches; they’ve done a great job. I’m happy for them really.”
Davis reiterated Calipari’s comments about coach Montelli.
“(Speaking at this event) is great,” Davis said. “It’s great because of my long-time friendship with Vito Montelli. That’s why I’m here. I’ve known coach V a long time; he’s a good, loyal friend and we’ve had a lot of shared experiences. He’s been around my family and I’ve been around his players and his family. It’s just nice to be with someone who’s really meant a lot to me.”
As the evening died down, some players also individually met with Calipari, who then called for a team photo at the end of the night. The players also received their championship rings before heading home with a memory that will surely last a lifetime.
“It’s a very special moment,” said St. Joseph forward Timajh Parker. “We worked very hard all year to get to this point and I’m glad that we went out with a bang. A state championship; I’m glad to end my career like this with all these people here today… To be in (coach Calipari’s) presence after winning a national championship – watching his team play all year and how hard they work – it’s a great experience for me and an honor that he’s here today to support us.”