San Francisco Chronicle
Princeton evokes memory of late Carril
SACRAMENTO — Princeton's basketball players wear a bowtie patch on their jerseys this season to honor longtime coach Pete Carril. So it's appropriate, in many ways, for the Tigers to land in Northern California for their NCAA Tournament opener Thursday.
Carril, a Hall of Famer famous for his backdoor-cutting offense and epic March upsets, died in August at age 92. He was Princeton's head coach for 29 years and later spent 13 seasons as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, where the general manager was Geoff Petrie, one of Carril's players at Princeton.
This season's Tigers, the No. 15 seed in the South Region, will play No. 2 Arizona on Thursday at Golden 1 Center. That game tips off about 1:10 p.m., after the opener between Missouri and Utah State.
Mitch Henderson, now Princeton's head coach, played for Carril in the mid-1990s and spoke openly of his immense influence.
“So much of what you see with us, the way we play, is what I've learned from Bill Carmody (Carril's successor) and Pete Carril and modernized it,” Henderson said Wednesday. Carril “said when I got the position here, ‘Be yourself.' He didn't say it in a suggestive way. It was more like, ‘Don't be me,' ” he added, smiling.
Henderson sees parallels between the way Princeton plays and the strong Kings teams of the early 2000s, namely in the way post players (such as former Sacramento center Vlade Divac) pass the ball. Henderson also pointed out the evolution of Carril's demeanor by the time he came west.
Carril was known for being fidgety and temperamental at Princeton, to say the least.
“I think what people saw out here with the Kings was a happier, maybe much calmer version of Coach Carril than what we experienced,” Henderson said.
Henderson brings some credibility when he tells his players they're capable of toppling a high-profile opponent. He scored eight points for Princeton on March 14, 1996 (27 years ago Tuesday), when the Tigers stunned defending national champion UCLA by the very Princeton-like score of 43-41.
Bruins on alert: UCLA, coincidentally, also will play in Sacramento on Thursday. The Bruins are the No. 2 seed in the West Region and will open against No. 15 UNC Asheville at approximately 7 p.m., after Northwestern-Boise State.
None of this year's UCLA players was alive when their predecessors fell to Princeton in '96, but Tyger Campbell and his teammates do remember last year's narrow first-round win over Akron (57-53). That served as a tidy reminder not to look past much lower-seeded foes.
“We understand every team in this tournament is a winning team,” Campbell said. “They're not scared. They're here for a reason. So we've just got to prepare like it's any regular game.”