Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 12
 
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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LOCAL HERO: Princeton University men’s basketball senior star and co-captain Noah Savage, left, and Tiger head coach Sydney Johnson enjoy the Senior Night pre-game ceremony before Princeton’s contest with Penn on March 11. There were fewer smiles later as the Tigers fell 60-47 to end the season 6-23 overall and 3-11 in Ivy League play. Savage, who played for Princeton High and Hun before matriculating across town to Princeton, scored 10 points in the finale. The 6’5 forward, who ended his Princeton career with 876 points, was named as a second-team All-Ivy performer.

Savage Ends PU Men’s Hoops Career, Learning Life Lessons Amid Frustration

Bill Alden

For Noah Savage, a highlight of his career on the Princeton University men’s basketball team came before a game at Penn two years ago when his ears were ringing with the catcalls of the home fans.

“I remember the game at Penn my sophomore year, having that excitement where winning the league was a real possibility,” said Savage, “I remember feeling like this is special. It’s a feeling not a lot of people get, having thousands of people hating you at once. That’s great.”

Last week, Savage hated how his Princeton career ended as the Tigers fell 60-47 to visiting Penn on March 11 before a Jadwin Gym crowd of 2,303.

“Obviously the final game didn’t go very well,” said Tiger co-captain Savage, a fixture on the local hoops scene who played for Princeton High and Hun before matriculating across town to Princeton.

“The adrenaline had been going since Sunday night; it was a weird feeling. I think that hurt us a little bit at the beginning. We came out a little flat because of that, it’s a little counterintuitive.”

Savage’s classmate and co-captain Kyle Koncz saw the loss in the finale as a microcosm of a frustrating yet character-building career that saw Princeton suffer three straight losing seasons and finish in the Ivy League cellar the last two years.

“It’s been a rough four years; we were in games and we were playing hard,” recalled Koncz.

“We learned a lot of lessons in the four years; the wins and losses may not show it but there are life lessons you take. Princeton basketball is pretty special and I feel honored to be part of a special program. It’s always going to be frustrating looking back on my career and seeing how many times we lost. There are things you have to take and you have to become a better man because of it.”

Princeton first-year head coach Sydney Johnson was happy to have men like Savage and Koncz on his side in his debut season.

“It’s double-edged sword to talk about Noah and Kyle because I could spend all night talking about their commitment and the affection that I have for them,” said Johnson, whose team finished the season 6-23 overall and 3-11 in Ivy League play.

“When they played well and they weren’t playing well, they had the same kind of effort and passion. It’s a double-edged sword because they are gone and we aren’t going to have them coming back. So it’s going to be a lot to replace, a whole lot. Stats are one thing but again it’s the heart, because of the heart of these two, I believed in this team from day one.”

Johnson acknowledged that it was tough to keep self-belief in the face of the mounting losses.

“It’s disappointing, we lost a lot more games than we thought we would,” said Johnson reflecting on the proud program’s first-ever season with more than 20 losses.

“Maybe we were the only ones in our locker room that felt that way, that’s the honest truth. But at the same time, there was a competitiveness that began to brew with these young men and there were some flashes that I’ve seen that we may be able to build on. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to get.”

As he looks ahead to his second season at the helm, Johnson is determined to keep working hard as he looks to right the ship.“The most seasoned coach is learning more about his team everyday,” asserted Johnson.

“I really hope the learning process never ends for me; if it does I’ll be concerned. At the same time, I really do believe in how we’re doing things. In terms of the passion and the caring about the jersey we wear and the commitment to playing hard, all those things are going to be staples of my coaching. I have had great mentoring and coaching in the past. I feel there are some things there that I can pass along to these young men that will lead us to where we want to go and I feel good about that.”

Savage, for his part, felt good about the mentoring he got in his Princeton career. “As for the four years, I’m really grateful and thankful that I got a chance to play here,” said Savage, who scored 10 points in his finale to give him a career total of 876.

“We had a lot of great coaching and I played with a lot of great guys. Wins- and losses-wise, I’m going to look at my four years and say it was really rough, this class has lost a lot of games. But what I think is that I got everything I thought going in as far as the opportunity to play games, the opportunity to be in and have the chance to win games. We didn’t win the games but I just feel very thankful and that I’m part of something special.”

While both his knees were wrapped and a senior thesis hovers on the horizon, Savage said he hopes to continue playing the game he loves after graduation.

“Hopefully there will be an opportunity to play somewhere,” said Savage, who was named as a second-team All-Ivy League performer this season to cap his superb career.

“They can pay me with food. I think I could go to Europe or other places, that’s been brought up by a couple of people. I’ll have to see how I feel about that. Right now, I’m feeling pretty exhausted and banged up, playing through some stuff. It’ll be nice to see how that stuff feels and heals and see how much I miss playing which I’m sure I’m going to miss a great deal. It hasn’t hit me yet, I can’t fathom not getting in the gym in a week and getting better.”

No matter where Savage goes, he will bring a wiser perspective with him as the result of his Princeton basketball experience.

“One thing I’ve learned that I can take with me is that no matter what happens yesterday, today is a new day,” said Savage, who played 111 games at Princeton, starting in 88 of those.

“That’s true if you’re winning; that’s true if you’re losing. We just try to have a steady approach and be the right way as far as our work ethic and our attitude. I try to insulate myself and not think of everything on a grand scale, the whole season, my whole career because then it becomes overwhelming. I said alright, well we have practice today, what can I do today.”

And with his work ethic and steadiness, Savage certainly did a lot for the Tigers in his four years.

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