Mike Repole said he couldn’t give away tickets for a St. John’s University basketball game last season. Now, the resurgent Red Storm are pushing up resale prices for seats at the Big East tournament.
Repole, 42, a 1991 St. John’s sports management graduate who has donated more than $1 million to the school, will be wearing his alma mater’s sweatshirt today at Madison Square Garden in New York when the team meets Rutgers University in the second round of conference play.
St. John’s (20-10), based in the New York borough of Queens, is having its best season since team scandals led to 47 games being forfeited from 2000-04. It is trying to reach the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament for the first time since 2002, an appearance later wiped off the books by the NCAA.
“St. John’s gives New York City a team to root for,” Repole, who co-founded Glaceau Vitaminwater sport drink, said in a telephone interview. “In New York, where everyone loves a winner, winning is magnified by 20 times; losing is magnified by 100 times.”
St. John’s ranks seventh on the Division I list with 1,723 wins since it began playing men’s basketball in 1907. It has made 26 NCAA tournament appearances, reaching the national semifinals in 1952 and 1985. It has won the National Invitation Tournament six times -- the last of those titles, in 2003, was vacated due to the scandals.
The program made headlines off the court a decade ago, leading to the firing of coach Mike Jarvis and school-imposed sanctions.
Six players were expelled or suspended after an incident at a strip club. Two players were arrested for smoking marijuana. A player said a coach had given him monthly payments, a violation of NCAA rules.
This season, the Red Storm tied for third in the Big East with a 12-6 conference record and upset four teams ranked at the time in the Associated Press Top 10 --Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Duke and Notre Dame.
All four of those wins came at Madison Square Garden, which first-year coach Steve Lavin said has been a key element in the Red Storm’s resurgence.
“Clearly, the Garden has been electric for us this season,” Lavin, 46, said in an e-mail. “The fact that we’ve had St. John’s fans pulling for our team has made a big difference in late-game situations, where you need that crowd to jumper-cable your team with energy. We’re just trying to creep back up that Big East ladder, to be viable again as a competitor.”
St. John’s played eight of its 16 regular-season home games at Madison Square Garden this year, and Athletic Director Chris Monasch said there may be more games there next season if dates are available. The arena also is home to the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks and the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers.
The 93-78 victory against Duke on Jan. 30 was played before a sellout of 19,353. Carnesecca Arena on the St. John’s campus has 6,008 seats.
“There is way more upside at the Garden,” said Monasch, 51, a St. John’s graduate.
St. John received a first-round bye and enters the Big East tournament having won nine of its last 11 games. It hasn’t lost at Madison Square Garden since Jan. 12, a 76-59 defeat by Syracuse. If St. John’s wins today, it will face Syracuse tomorrow in the conference quarterfinals.
“This momentum is driven by an excellent coach, a really good coaching staff, with hungry, motivated, talented seniors,” CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg told reporters yesterday. “They’ll be a real problematic team.”
Interest in a potential matchup tomorrow between the Red Storm and Orange is driving ticket demand for the two games on that afternoon session, according to Christian Anderson, a spokesman for FanSnap.com, the Palo Alto, California-based Internet search engine that compares prices of ticket resellers.
The average price for a ticket to that quarterfinal session -- which also will feature Georgetown against Connecticut -- is $431, Anderson said in a telephone interview. During the equivalent afternoon session last year, in which Syracuse took on Georgetown and Villanova played Marquette, ticket prices averaged $302.
“Clearly, the St. John’s and Syracuse fan bases are energized,” Anderson said.
‘Mike From Queens’
Repole, who said he will be at the game today as “just Mike from Queens,” attributes his success to St. John’s. Glaceau Vitaminwater was sold to Coca-Cola Co. for $4.1 billion in 2007. Repole wouldn’t say how much money he has donated to the school. He and his wife, Maria, were inducted last year into the Founders Society, for $1 million-plus donors.
“I am so happy, so proud of the 10 seniors,” Repole said. “They went 3 1/2 years with little notoriety, little success. Now I see a swagger about them. Lavin and his staff brought it out of them.”