After Living Through Whirlwind Last 2 Months, Princeton's Scott Ready to Zero in on Basketball
By Bill Alden
Joe Scott's life has been a whirlwind since that memorable day in late April when he was introduced as the new head coach of the Princeton University men's basketball team.
In the two months since the emotional press conference when the Princeton hoops torch was passed to him, Scott has uprooted his wife and two young sons from their Colorado home where he had been the head coach for Air Force and moved across the country to Princeton.
After living in a rental and getting frequent sustenance from Conte's pizza, the Scott family closed on a new home in Princeton last week and will soon be unloading boxes.
Down at Scott's new office in the upper floor at Jadwin Gym, the new coach is in the process of setting up shop.
While Scott has a certain comfort level from having been a star point guard at Princeton in the late 1980s and then having served as an assistant coach with the program from 1992-2000, there are still a slew of administrative details to handle.
Scott has firmed up his coaching staff, having hired former Holy Cross assistant coach Tony Newsom last week to join his core group of first assistant Mike Brennan and the program's longtime assistant coach Howard Levy.
The exacting Scott has completed a film review of all of the games from Princeton's 2003-04 season and is in the process of mapping out the schedule for the campaign ahead.
Before the end of school, Scott did get two weeks to put his returning upperclassmen through individual workouts and start the process of earning the trust of the players who had been guided by previous coach John Thompson III, whose move to Georgetown paved the way for Scott's return to Princeton.
Last week, Scott finally got a chance to do a little coaching as he ran the program's annual summer boys' basketball camp. Sitting in the lobby of Dillon Gym last Wednesday as an afternoon session of the camp got underway, Scott seemed relieved to finally be in a gym.
"It's been good, it's been hectic," said Scott, as he reflected on coming home to Princeton. "There is a lot to do and not all of it is related to basketball. You have all those personal things in your life that change. I'm getting the family settled in and then I can zero in on the basketball part."
Scott acknowledges that the basketball part of things is hardly confined to what transpires on the court.
"Running a basketball program isn't just the coaches and players," explained Scott, who earned a law degree from Notre Dame in 1990 and practiced law with a Morristown firm for a year before getting into coaching.
"It's administration, it's marketing, it's the ticket office. It's doing everything we can so that when we put a good product on the court that plays hard, the stands are filled and there's a big time atmosphere."
From what he's seen of his returning veterans, Scott is confident he will put a good product out on the court next season.
"I think we do have some pretty good players, there's a lot to work with," said Scott, citing the core of seniors Judson Wallace, Will Venable, Andre Logan, and Mike Stephens, junior Scott Greenman, and sophomores Luke Owings, Harrison Schaen, and Max Schafer, who took the Ivy League crown last winter and ended with a final record of 20-8.
"The challenge is to get these guys zeroed in on what we do and to get great at what we do. I think that change in general will be good for them. It's a new voice and I may get them to think they have to pay closer attention."
Based on how things went in May with the individual workouts, Scott feels his approach will resonate with his veterans.
"I thought it went well," said Scott, referring to the year-end sessions. "I think they responded really well to the change and what I've been asking them to do. We need to be a better shooting team, I think that's going to come from placing more emphasis on outside shooting."
While the storied program is clearly in good shape, with last year's Ivy title marking Princeton's 23rd appearance in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers have fallen into a frustrating habit in recent years of battling major powers on even terms for large stretches of games before ultimately falling short of victory.
Not surprisingly, the ultra-competitive Scott is driven to help Princeton kick that habit of near-misses. "I think this group has to go out and beat some high caliber teams," said Scott, ruefully recalling the Tigers' narrow defeats at Rutgers, Minnesota, and Oklahoma during the regular season and the team's loss to Texas in the NCAA tourney.
"In order to win those games, they have to be precise and exact. If we can get one of those, things would snowball."
Recalling his previous stint at Princeton, Scott notes that the program's famous win over UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament acted as a springboard for the 51-6 record posted over the next two seasons.
"We beat UCLA and then we beat everybody the next two years," recalled Scott. "But you need that one win, the one that says to you that we're good."
Scott believes his experience at Air Force where he transformed a moribund program into a winner, going 22-7 and making the NCAA tournament last season, will come in handy as he tries to push Princeton to the next level.
"We did little things for different guys, for different positions, all geared to dictating the game to our opponents," said Scott, who is already plotting how his team can dictate when it faces Duke next winter.
"I think we had to come up with things on a consistent basis to take on teams of that caliber. We had to play against that kind of team every night, not just six times a year."
According to Scott, his returning veterans are on the same page. "We've still got a lot of room to get better," added Scott, who is high on such incoming freshmen as Matt Sargeant and former Hun School star Noah Savage
"You know what, I think the players think that too and that's what you need. They have to strive for more. They're upset that they lost to Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Texas. I think they recognize that they have to work harder."
Seemingly soothed by the sound of bouncing balls and squeaking sneakers in the background, Scott appears ready to work hard for years in his new post.
"I think this is a great place that's been really good to me," asserted Scott. "I was in a position at Air Force where every spring, my wife and I would sit down and say what are we going to do. I don't want to be doing that every March. We knew that by coming back here, we could stop doing that."
Instead, Scott is hoping that March will become a time when he is annually too busy with the NCAA tournament matters to worry about anything else.