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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sports Illustrated and the Princeton Basketball Family

A recent Sports Illustrated features an article on Georgetown's head men's basketball coach, John Thompson III. It's written by Alexander Wolff, Princeton Class of 1979 (Thompson was Class of 1988). Prominently mentioned in the article is Thompson III's former coach, Pete Carril, who is a member of Basketball's Hall of Fame.

As far as articles go, it's a good article, but. . .

1. Why all of the sudden a focus on the head coach of a #2 seed? I suppose the response is "why not?" I suppose the real answer is that he's a terrific coach, a great guy, an Ivy alum, the son of one Hall of Fame coach and former player of another, but is this really news? Hasn't it been written before, many times over?

2. Why is there so much focus on the Princeton basketball family still? My surmise is that because there are Princeton alums at SI and that Wolff likes to write about the subject. Look, you'll get no argument from me that Carril was a great coach (as was John Thompson, Jr.) and that John Thompson III is an excellent coach. But how many times does this topic need to be mentioned or addressed? Truth be told, the other Carril progeny have fared in mixed fashion recently. Joe Scott did not do well at Princeton (he is now at Denver), and Chris Mooney is struggling at Richmond. Sydney Johnson inherited a tough situation from Joe Scott at Princeton, and the Tigers finished at 6-23 this year. Carril's former top assistant, Bill Carmody, has performed in middling fashion at Northwestern (and that assessment might be charitable) and has not gotten the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament. Save for a great relationship with his university's president, I would have thought that after a bad season in this, his eighth, at Northwestern, Carmody might have lost his job after this season. Craig Robinson, a two-time Ivy Player of the Year at Princeton, has excelled at Brown. Yes, it's very impressive that a former Ivy head coach has so many players and former assistants as head coaches. But that story has been written. . . many times.

3. Would SI have written this article if Alexander Wolff and certain editors had gone, say, to Texas-Corpus Christi, University of Portland or Grinnell? What would SI be writing about, say, if Wolff and the same fellow reporters and editors had attended the University of Pennsylvania? Might not another story have been written -- one that covered neither Princeton nor Penn? Perhaps, pray tell, Cornell, once known as an ice hockey school.

3. Penn fans would be correct to argue that SI has a Princeton bias. After all, Fran Dunphy arguably is at least the second-best head coach in Ivy history. Penn fans can make a cogent, persuasive argument that within the Ivies, he was the best, although before a national jury they'd probably lose to Princeton alums about Carril. Still, Coach Dunphy is an excellent coach, is excelling at Temple, and his former top assistant, Steve Donahue, has persisted at Cornell and did an amazing job this season in leading the Big Red to an undefeated season in the Ivies and an NCAA berth. Yet, the stories don't persist -- in SI at least -- about the wizardry of Fran Dunphy (and, also, about what a wonderful guy and teacher he is).

4. Perhaps this is more of a constructive criticism of the SI editors and/or Alex Wolff, but enough about the Carril legacy. Been there, done that, it's amazing, yes, Grant Wahl, the Princeton offense has been copied many times, but enough is enough. Why? Because the last time I checked, the Ivy program most worthy of national publicity over the past 8 years has been Penn's, not Princeton's.

That's my take on it, and, as most of you know, I am a Princeton alum, big Princeton basketball fan, and grew up in the Philadelphia area as a rabid Penn fan and hold the Penn program and Fran Dunphy in high regard (all the while loathing the possibility of having my beloved alma mater lose to the Quakers).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written article!
While I seem to be in the minority, believing that Thompson 3
may not be as great as advertised,
he DID get the Hoya job because of his last name. Four years in the Ivy League (two Dance trips) is not the natural progression to the Big East. Contrast this to Dunphy who spent, I believe > 15 years at Penn, won numerous titles, and finally ends up in the A10.

In addition, a guy like Bob McKillop who has paid his dues and won several titles in the Southern Conference (superior to the Ivy league) hasn't gotten a sniff from either the Big East or ACC. Who doesn't think he clearly out-coached Thompson last weekend?

And now, adding insult to injury, Brown's Craig Robinson, after only TWO years as head coach is on the short list for the Providence job.
I wonder if HIS family has anything to do with this?

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A "persuasive" case that Dunphy was best in Ivy, over Carril? A case can be made, maybe, but persuasive -- its a matter of legit debate. Carril's obstacles at Princeton were greater than Dumphy's at Penn and his achievements greater, from knocking off top 20 teams, to the NIT win when it still meant something, and so on. This is no disrespect to the fine Dunphy as coach and man.

12:15 PM  
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