Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 8
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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FOR PETE’S SAKE: Former Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Pete Carril addresses the crowd last Saturday evening after the main court at Jadwin Gym was officially renamed “Carril Court” in his honor.

PU Hoops Legend Carril Evokes Cheers, Laughter as His Name Becomes Forever Part of Jadwin Gym

Bill Alden

It seemed like old times as Pete Carril held court last Saturday evening at Caldwell Lounge.

Frequently flashing his trademark impish grin, the legendary former Princeton University men’s basketball head coach enjoyed facing a media gathering hours before the main court at Jadwin Gym was officially renamed “Carril Court” in his honor.

With a Sacramento Kings baseball cap laying to his left on the conference room table, Carril, 78, offered his insight on subjects ranging the famed Princeton offense (it started with copying concepts from the Boston Celtics of the 1960s and the New York Knicks of the 1970s) to battles with Princeton admissions (some bouts but nothing serious) to the future prospects of the Tiger program (turning the corner under former player Sydney Johnson).

When Carril arrived at Princeton in 1967 to take the helm of the hoops program, he wasn’t sure he would stay into the 1970s, let alone have a court named after him.

“It is very hard to be successful here,” asserted Carril. “I would tell kids that there is a love-hate situation here because when you are playing you don’t get the recognition that you might get for being good.”

Carril received plenty of recognition for his record-breaking 29-year tenure at Princeton which saw him compile a record of 514-263 from 1967-68 through 1995-96 and guide the Tigers to the NIT championship in 1975 and 11 NCAA tournament appearances.

While famous for some near misses in NCAA play including a 54-53 loss to Rutgers in 1976 and a a 50-49 defeat to Georgetown in 1989, Carril’s final Princeton team pulled out one of the greatest tournament upsets when it topped defending national champion UCLA 43-41 in March, 1996.

After leaving Princeton, Carril was hired by former star player Geoff Petrie to be an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA.

Although Carril said he had not missed guiding Princeton, he acknowledged that he could not live without the game.

“I had a good bunch of guys to work with out there,“ said Carril referring to the Kings, for whom he is still serving as a consultant.

“I think doing nothing is a tough job for a guy like me. I don’t have the face for TV. I don’t fish and I don’t hunt. I don’t play cards. I don’t enjoy driving my car. So what I do enjoy is coaching basketball so when you don’t have that to do you are not that happy.”

Carril was not initially all that happy with the honor he received Saturday. “After arguing with this guy for a while (pointing to Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters), I sort of relented,” acknowledged Carril, who was inducted into the Naismaith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.

“I don’t really think it is that much. I am surprised to see you all here, to be honest with you.”

Walters, for his part, is glad he twisted Carril’s arm. “When we had the formal gathering for coach [Butch] van Breda Kolff, we sat down and I said why wouldn’t you want to have the kind of recognition we had tonight for coach van Breda Kolff,” recalled Walters, recalling the installation of a plaque in van Breda Kolff’s death in 2007. “Why would you want to wait until you pass away; to me that doesn’t make any sense. So I think he listened to that.”

It still took a while for Carril to ultimately come around. “I started a campaign, I put a picture of the court in my office and I had different themes,” said Walters, who played for Carril at Reading High (Pa.) in the 1960s before he became a star for the Tigers.

“One day I had the court with a tiger and a bow tie; another week I had the tiger and a cigar. He would come into my office and see that. So finally with the help of some other guys and the mutual respect we have for each other, he agreed.”

That agreement was based, in part, on the idea that the honor wasn’t just about Carril.

“I would like to think that he understood that this is as much about the legacy of Princeton basketball and the guys who played for him,” asserted Walters.

“It is greater than him and that’s the way he would want it. I personally believe he made Princeton basketball a brand name which burnished the academic reputation of this university. It is the smart taking from the strong, we were the Davids beating the Goliaths.”

At the halftime ceremony later that evening, Carril, the man who relished tilting at windmills, enjoyed being the crowd favorite as he was showered by affection from the fans and the scores of former players who showed up to share the moment.

After taking the mike and graciously thanking the University and his players, Carril provided the humor and perceptiveness that was a major part of his legend.

Noting the Carril Court label on the floor and a life-sized banner of the coach unfurled from the gym’s rafters, he quipped “It’s bad enough people are going to step all over me when they play on this court, now they’ve decided to hang me.”

Princeton was certainly lucky to have Carril hang around for 29 seasons.

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