Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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TAKING THE LEAD: Princeton University men’s basketball tri-captains, from left, senior Kareem Maddox, senior Dan Mavraides, and junior Patrick Saunders, are all smiles last week at the program’s annual media day. Coming off a 22-9 season last winter which ended with a run to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) semifinals, Princeton will tip off its 2010-11 campaign by hosting Rutgers on November 12. Two days later, the Tigers will head south to play at defending national champion Duke.

Tabbed as Ivy League Favorite After CBI Run, PU Men’s Hoops Bringing Ambition Into 2010-11

Bill Alden

Adding a new chapter to the program’s storied tradition, the Princeton University men’s basketball team ended last winter by making a run to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) semifinals.

Like some of the great Tiger teams of the past, Princeton showed verve and skill on a national stage as it knocked off Duquesne and IUPUI before falling to St. Louis University.

For Tiger head coach Sydney Johnson, the late run was an important step forward in his effort to raise Princeton’s competitiveness and profile.

“I think that was important because we got more games in,” said Johnson, speaking at the program’s recent media day in reflecting on a winter that saw his team go 22-9.

“The fact that we were playing important games every time out against other programs that have a great tradition or high ambitions was a really good experience.”

Showing its ambition and willingness to play all-comers, Princeton will be starting the 2010-11 campaign picking up where it left off, hosting Rutgers on November 12 before playing at defending national champion Duke on November 14.

“They are terrific teams. Mike Rice [the new Rutgers head coach] is very intense and a very good Xs and Os coach,” said Johnson, a former Tiger hoops star who brings a 41-46 record into his fourth season at the helm of his alma mater.

“He is going to bring immediate passion to what they do. They are in Big East, that conference is awesome. That’s obviously a huge challenge and then you play the defending national champs. Coach K is a person who people say lots of things about and it is still not enough. He is that great in terms of his understanding of the game and how well and hard his teams play.”

In order to be competitive with that kind of opposition, Princeton is going to need to work harder in practice.

“Sometimes you want to go very fast and they handle it well and other times you want to go very fast and they are not quite keyed in,” said Johnson.

“As much as we have some returners, we have some young kids in our program that we feel can play and yet they are going to need some time. We are competitive just about every time out but not every time out. That’s where we are right now. It is just the understanding that there is a sense of urgency and you don’t get a lot of that these days.”

The program hasn’t had a lot of leaders who can match graduated point guard Marcus Schroeder and Johnson is feeling that void.

“There are so many intangibles; he was just fantastic,” said Johnson of Schroeder. “I don’t know if he led us in scoring too many times but he got assists, he got steals. He talked in the locker room; he talked in practice. I don’t know how you fill that with any one guy if they are not exactly like Marcus.”

The Tigers will be looking to tri-captains, seniors Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox and junior Patrick Saunders, together with junior guard Doug Davis to pick up the leadership slack left by Schroeder on and off the court.

Mavraides emerged as a second-team All-Ivy performer last winter, averaging 11.5 points a game and making 57 three-pointers. The 6’8, 230-pound Maddox was a force off the bench, producing seven double-digit scoring games down the stretch for the Tigers.

Former Hun School star Davis was a second-team All-Ivy performer in 2009-10 as he scored a team-high 12.7 points a game and led the Tigers with 74 three-pointers. Saunders showed an improved touch last winter as he was a 49 percent shooter from the field (55 of 112), 42.6 percent from three-point range (26 of 61) and 94.7 percent from the free-throw line (18 of 19).

“So it is left to Kareem, Mavraides, Patrick and Doug and some of our guys who have played a lot more minutes to fill those gaps by committee,” said Johnson, who is also looking for big things from sophomore Ian Hummer (6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds a game last winter).

“Maybe there is a leader who will emerge who deferred to Marcus last year, we’ll see. We certainly want our captains to lead. We certainly want Doug, who is very experienced, to lead. We want a lot of anxious guys ready to follow and compete.”

In Johnson’s view, Maddox could be an ‘X’ factor for the Tigers. “I just think that he has shown a lot of guts,” said Johnson.

“I had very high expectations for him. Coach [Joe] Scott recruited him and saw some great things in him and I would agree with all those great things. There is a lot of talent there but it didn’t all come together. I certainly think that he is a valuable player for us. We want him to continue what he did in the second half of last season and build on that.”

The irrepressible 6’8 Saunders figures to make a big impact for Princeton. “The kid is fantastic,” asserted Johnson of the Gilford, N.H. native who averaged 5.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in his sophomore campaign.

“The effort is remarkable; in practice he sets a tone. He has a very good skills set and he is an honest kid too. When he realizes our team isn’t giving a great effort, he is one of the first guys to speak up. He gets that he is playing so he can walk away from the court and know that he put in an honest effort and he is demanding that from his teammates. At that age, to have that understanding is remarkable. We are going to call on that; we are going to demand that of him and make sure the other guys are along with him.”

The combination of Princeton’s strong finish last winter together with graduation losses and the coaching change at three-time defending Ivy champion Cornell has left the Tigers tabbed by the media poll as the preseason pick to win the league crown.

“I hope they are not running from it; what we talked about a couple of seasons ago is that we want challenges,” said Johnson, reflecting on getting picked first in the poll after placing second last year with an 11-3 league mark.

“I think it says a couple of things, that the players have certainly improved. The ones that have been here, Bobby Foley, Mavraides, and Maddox, they have to set that tone where you improve from year one to year two and so on. I think it says a lot about our coaching staff. You look at Tony Newsom and Brian Earl who have given their hearts to the program. At the end of the day, when you jump the ball it is not going to matter where we are picked and what people think of us.”

In Johnson’s view, the team’s success will depend on the players showing heart on a daily basis.

“I was very fortunate to play here and I tried to bust my tail everyday,” said Johnson.

“I was fortunate to play with other guys who did the same and things came to us. Our team earned what came our way by busting our tails everyday in practice so nobody gave us anything. So with this team, it is if you bust your tail everyday at practice, we will get what is coming for us, what belongs to us. If we don’t do it, we won’t have it, that’s it. It is daily practice, get better, work hard together and we’ll figure it out.”

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