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Monday, December 13, 2004

Princeton Joins an Exclusive Club

Okay, so when you think of Princeton, you think of exclusive clubs, the fancy eating clubs that adorn Prospect Avenue, but, in fact, the Tigers joined one on Sunday when they beat Monmouth 56-52 for their 1500th career victory. In so doing, the Tigers are only the 14th NCAA Division I school to win 1500 games. Here is the list (going into the season):

1. Kentucky 1,876 (101 seasons)
2. North Carolina 1,827 (94)
3. Kansas 1,825 (106)
4. Duke 1,737 (99)
5. St. John's 1,668 (97)
6. Syracuse 1,630 (103)
7. Temple 1,623 (108)
8. Pennsylvania 1,572 (104)
9. Indiana 1,555 (104)
10. Notre Dame 1,548 (99)
11. Utah 1,541 (96)
12. UCLA 1,530 (85)
13. Oregon State 1,529 (103)
14. Princeton 1,495 (104)
15. Illinois 1,483 (99).

It would be neat to see a pre-season tournament with some title such as "Legends of the Game" that pits the top 8 teams against each other. The top 4 are a perennial Final Four, now that Carolina has rebounded from its recent slump. Number 5 Syracuse has been in college hoops' stratosphere as of late, and numbers 6 through 8 have a richer history than a present. Temple has had some down years, St. John's has had an even rougher time, and Penn's biggest dream now is to get to the Big Dance and actually win a first-round game. If you were surprised that UCLA wasn't one of the top 5 or so, just remember that it's a relatively newer university, about 15 seasons shy of some of its competitors on this list.

The Princeton Tigers have a rich history, and a line of coaches that traces itself back to Cappy Cappon, who coached Bill van Breda Kolff, a Princeton alum (Class of 1944, who actually got his degree at NYU), who coached Pete Carril when Carril was a student at Lafayette College. When van Breda Kolff left Princeton for the Los Angeles Lakers, Carril, who was coaching at Lehigh, succeeded him (reports are that two guys named Knight (Bobby) and Brown (Larry) interviewed for the Tigers' job in the mid-1960's, and both have fared okay after not landing in the Ivies). Bill Carmody, now the Northwestern mentor, succeeded Carril, and Carmody played his college hoops at Union College in New York state, where his coach was Gary Walters, now the Princeton A.D. Walters had played for Carril in HS in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Carril had his first coaching job and then played for van Breda Kolff at Princeton (he went on to coach at Dartmouth and Providence). John Thompson III, who had played for Carril (Carmody was a fourteen-year Carril assistant before succeeding his former boss), succeeded Carmody, and then Joe Scott, who was a teammate of Thompson's, succeeded Thompson after last season when Thompson left Tigertown for Georgetown. Scott had assisted Carril and Carmody.

Some schools embark upon elaborate searches, some pay the huge bucks, some go for the biggest name. The Tigers? They don't have to look very far.

And it's hard to argue with their record.

Sure, they're not Kansas, Kentucky, Carolina or Duke. But who are? 1,500 wins is 1,500 wins. And those wins put the Tigers in elite company.

More importantly, they've made their indelible mark on college basketball, the same way their arch-rivals, the Penn Quakers, have. Princeton has given the college hoops world Bill Bradley, who is regarded as the ultimate scholar-athlete, a Rhodes Scholar who was an all-American player. Pete Carril gave the world the Princeton offense and the most famous loss in college hoops history. In 1989, the 16th seeded Tigers lost 50-49 to top-seeded Georgetown (with Alonzo Mourning) in the first round of the tournament. I once wrote that there really is no thing as a bad win or a good loss, but the Tigers' effort on that particular day came as close to a good loss as is humanly possible (whether Mourning fouled Tiger center Kit Mueller on the game's last play is something Carril has vowed to take up with God when he gets there). College basketball fans talked about that game for years.

So before you say the Ivies aren't worthy of this company, just remember a few things. First, the best college hoops venue in the country belongs to an Ivy League school. Penn's Palestra is the best place in the U.S. to watch a college hoops game, and ask fans of Temple, St. Joe's, LaSalle and Villanova if that isn't so. The Palestra is at its finest when it's packed, which it usually is when the Quakers host Princeton. Penn has produced some great coaches (Dick Harter, Chuck Daly) and some fine players (Bob Morse, Corky Calhoun, Dave Wohl) of their own as well as a magical Final Four team in 1979, the last time an Ivy school went to the Final Four.
Second, Penn and Princeton form perhaps the best rivalry in college basketball, especially because the Ivies' regular season champ goes to the Big Dance. No post-season tournament for the Ivies.

Wimpy league? Weak schools?

You've got to be joking.

Just ask anyone who plays them.


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