A Skype date with men's basketball great John Karalis

by Mike Lucas / Beacon Staff • February 13, 2014

John Karalis was the first Emerson men's basketball player to go on to play pro ball.
Courtesy of John Karalis
John Karalis was the first Emerson men's basketball player to go on to play pro ball.
Courtesy of John Karalis

John Karalis, 40, was the first in a string notable men’s basketball players to graduate from Emerson College during the tenure of longtime coach Hank Smith, who led the team from 1994-2011. Karalis was a four-year starter and a two-year captain, finishing his college career with over 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds. He became the first Emerson athlete to play professionally, briefly continuing his basketball career overseas in Greece. 

Karalis is a 1996 graduate, who received his bachelor’s degree from Emerson with a concentration in broadcast journalism. He currently lives in New York City, where he is the 6 pm producer at WNYW, New York’s Fox affiliate.

In his spare time, Karalis forms one half of the two-person team that runs the popular daily Boston Celtics blog Red’s Army. One of the website’s signature features is a daily story called “Your Morning Dump,” a collection of links of the day’s relevant Celtics stories across the media. Although Karalis declined to share details on his web traffic, he has over 10,700 Twitter followers on his account, @RedsArmy_John, including several notable members of local and national sports media.

Karalis sat down for a 45-minute Skype interview with the Beacon. The following has been edited down from its original length:

Berkeley Beacon: How’d you get started playing basketball?

John Karalis: You know, I’ve always been tall, so I started when I was young. I grew really early, so I was always bigger than the other kids. I was this oaf in junior high school, but I didn’t start really playing until freshman year. Luckily, I had a coach in high school that freshman year — I was 6-foot-3, and in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, that’s a big, a power forward or center — so he was like, “You can’t coach height, so we’re going to keep you on the team.” Thankfully, he did. My first three years playing ball in high school were a slow progression, but he kept pushing me to work, and by senior year I had a breakout year and scored about 600 points. I think I averaged 25 [points] and 12 [rebounds].

BB: Okay, John, I see you out there getting buckets. What made you come to Emerson?

JK: I decided to go to Emerson, which didn’t contact me [about playing]. At that point, the Emerson program was just terrible. They didn’t have a recruiting effort. But I decided that I was going to focus more on my education. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew that I was interested in speaking, talking, and writing.

BB: Talk to me about your experiences playing for coach Smith?

JK: (Laughs) Oh, boy. I went to Emerson College as a little bit of a sheltered boy, and by the time I left Emerson College, Hank Smith pulled a man out of me. He turned me into a mature, responsible adult that was ready to deal with things you deal with in real life. I’m always indebted to him for that. It wasn’t easy playing for him, I’ll give you that. You hear stories about Bob Knight and he’s kind of similar to that, and Hank would let you have it. I’ll just leave it at that. He’d let you have it.

BB: After your Emerson career, you went overseas to play professionally in Greece. You were the first Emerson player to ever play professional ball. Tell me about that experience.

JK: I’m not going to lie — it was a lot of fun. I wish it could have lasted longer. When I look back on and thinking about living that life — having that experience of this is your job. I wake up in the morning, I go to practice, weight room. That whole thing that you would expect. Your whole day is centered around basketball. Not a bad life. I’m smiling from ear to ear now thinking back to what happened.

BB: In 2005, you and Chuck McKenney decided to start a Celtics blog called RedsArmy.com. Where did the inspiration for that come from?

JK: I was working at WBZ doing overnight shifts for the morning news, and my [writing] partner Chuck McKenney and I were reading a Red Sox blog [Boston Dirt Dogs]. We would read it every day and laugh and we’re both obviously big Celtics fans, and at one point one of us turned to the other and said, “We should do one for the Celtics.” And then we paused and said, “We really should do this for the Celtics.” And at that point the brainstorming started fast and furious. We thought of names to call it and registered the domain and we didn’t know about blogging software. There were very crude designs for the site. It was really just an outlet for us to write about basketball.

BB: What was the turning point for the site?

JK: A lot of things came together at the right time. First of all, Chuck and I have a fanatical devotion to the site. We’ve sacrificed a lot of free time to work on this. Fans like to look at players like characters, almost like they’re playing NBA2K, but one of the things if you listen to any of the podcasts I do or any of the writing I do, I really try to focus on these players as people. We were lucky enough to have started the blog a couple of years before the Kevin Garnett trade and the Ray Allen trade before their championship years, so that drove interest. We also launched the same time Twitter started, and our Twitter presence is pretty big. We’re not the biggest Celtics blog out there.
CelticsBlog.com is still the biggest blog and they cover the team like a news station. We at Red’s Army treat it a little differently. We’re the guys the fans want to have a beer with and talk Celtics.

BB: If you were Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, what would you do with point guard Rajon Rondo as the team transitions to a new era?

JK: I’m going to follow the plan that I believe Danny Ainge has and keep Rondo and build around him. Basically, they have a year from [right now] to figure this out — to figure out if Rondo can be a captain and live up to the captain’s responsibilities, if he can be the type of scorer the team needs him to be, and if he can make the guys around him good enough. I think they need to figure out these type of things, and how much money he’s going to need to stick around, and if that works financially in their future. I’d keep him this offseason and figure these out, and if next February for some reason it doesn’t work, I put him on the block. I’d love to see him be the next guy that retires a Celtic.

BB: If the Celtics end up with the number one overall draft pick, who are you drafting?

JK: I’m a [Duke freshman, Jabari] Parker guy right now. I think he’s a very versatile scorer and what the Celtics are going to need alongside Rondo is a scorer. He can definitely take guys in the post: he’s aggressive, he cuts to the basket well, he moves well, he moves well without the ball.

BB: Who is your favorite Boston Celtic of all time?

JK: I have to go with Larry Bird. I want to say Bill Russell, but obviously he was way before my time. Bird was “The Man” when I really was falling in love with the sport and with the team. My favorite story about Bird was, he was playing the Bucks and it was Xavier McDaniel. He says. “I’m going to get the ball right here and hit the winning shot in your face,” and does, and then goes, “I didn’t mean to leave any time on the clock.” That’s [awesome]! I’ve got to go with Bird, but Paul Pierce is such a close second. He was the next generational player for the team.