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Vol. LXII, No. 1
 
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
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THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Former Princeton University men’s basketball star Gabe Lewullis acknowledges the cheers of the Jadwin Gym crowd in a recent halftime ceremony honoring the 1997-98 Tiger squad. Lewullis, now an orthopedic surgery resident in Philadelphia, averaged 14.2 points a game for that legendary team which went 27-2 and rose to the Top 10 in the national polls.

Memories, Friendships Still Strong for Lewullis as 1997-98 PU Men’s Hoops Team Recognized

Bill Alden

Gabe Lewullis and his teammates from the legendary 1997-98 Princeton University men’s basketball team took things in stride as they were honored recently during a halftime ceremony at Jadwin Gym.

Dressed casually in a cobalt blue shirt and black slacks, Lewullis graciously waved to the crowd when introduced and then shared knowing laughs with his teammates as their exploits were recounted.

The crowd at Jadwin was not laid back as they cheered heartily in greeting the storied team that took the college basketball world by storm 10 years ago when it went 27-2 and rose to the Top 10 in the national polls.

For the players themselves, the get-together wasn’t all that unique as the bonds they developed during their years at Princeton have kept them close over the years.

“We all keep in touch with everybody already; we get to use this as another time to get together and hang out,” said Lewullis, a 6’6 forward who averaged 14.2 points a game during the 1997-98 season and ended his Princeton career with 1,277 points, good for ninth all-time in program history.

“We all got in last night and went to dinner and then hit the eating clubs a little bit. We played a little basketball this morning at Dillon Gym. The things we talked about last night and today were the same things we talked about then.”

Fighting and winning many a basketball battle together has led to friendships that will last a lifetime.

“When things go poorly, if you are with your friends, you are going to go through it,” said Lewullis, a 1999 PU grad who is currently an orthopedic surgery resident at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.

“These are the guys you can really trust. You can have tough situations in basketball but that’s OK if the guy next to you is going to pull you through it. Our guys did.”

While the 1997-98 team returned a core of veteran stars including Brian Earl, Mitch Henderson, Steve Goodrich, and James Mastaglio, Lewullis didn’t expect the team to capture the nation’s attention.

“We went on a trip to Italy where we toured the country as a team,” recalled Lewullis, whose place in Princeton hoops lore was assured in 1996 when he hit the backdoor lay-up that topped defending champion UCLA in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“We played some tough teams out there. It gave us an extra chance to practice and play against some professionals. Our schedule worked out nicely. We played Texas, N.C. State, and Wake Forest in the first part of the season. It was all on national TV so we made news right away. Playing the Ivy League season helped us move into the Top 10. We swept through the competition.”

But while the team was being chronicled by the likes of Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, Time Magazine, and ABC News, among many others, Lewullis and his teammates didn’t get caught up in the media hoopla.

“Our coaching staff helped us all keep things in perspective,” said Lewullis. “We knew what was important and it wasn’t what was in the newspapers. I don’t think the guys got caught up in it all; that was the mentality of the team when it took the floor.”

While the school-record 27 wins tend to run together when Lewullis looks back to 1997-98, the two losses that season (a 50-42 loss to North Carolina in the regular season and a 63-56 loss to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament) still stick in his craw.

“I think about the season at times, especially when I see North Carolina and Michigan State on TV,” said Lewullis.

“We wish we had the chance to play those teams again. We were up at Carolina with eight minutes to go; they had five future NBA players on their team. Against Michigan State, we shot so poorly. They played us tough but we lost that one ourselves.”

The lessons learned along that special journey aid Lewullis on a daily basis, particularly when he is in the operating room.

“I think all of us had a mentality of getting through adversity,” said Lewullis.

“Playing for Coach Carril and then Coach Carmody was tough; there are not a lot of things you face in life that you aren’t going to be able to deal with.”

But in the final analysis, it is the relationships with his teammates that stand out the most when Lewullis looks back at his college career.

“The core group of people I met at Princeton are some of the most amazing people I have met,” said Lewullis. “It was a special time; we all appreciate what Princeton has done for us.”

And those who got to watch Lewullis and his teammates in action 10 years ago certainly appreciate what a special season that was.

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