Mitch Henderson isn’t coy in setting forth what he hopes to see from his Princeton University men’s basketball team this winter.
“The expectation is that we are supposed to win the league,” said Princeton head coach Henderson, who guided the Tigers to a 20-12 overall record and 10-4 in Ivy League play last winter in his debut season as the team finished third in the league and went on to make the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.
“Every single year, we want to make sure that we are contending for the title. I think that the group that you are seeing right now really wants that shot. They know that it is about hard work on the floor and getting better so we define ourselves by those things everyday. Are we getting better, are we improving, are we making each other better, are we unselfish. Those guys are really taking those qualities to heart.”
With Princeton slated to tip off the 2012-13 season by playing at Buffalo on November 10, the Tigers are depending on getting some quality work from their trio of seniors, Ian Hummer (16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 2011-12), Brendan Connolly (5.7 points, 3.6 rebounds), and Mack Darrow (7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds).
“I know that Ian gets a lot of attention but he has made strides,” said Henderson of the 6’7, 225-pound Hummer, a two-time All-Ivy performer who comes into the season with 1,170 career points.
“He has really taken a role as a leader and he put in time in the weight room. He looks like he is ready to go; the same thing with Brendan Connolly. The seniors are doing what they are supposed to do, which is leading by example.”
The Tigers, who were chosen No. 1 in the 2012-13 Ivy Preseason Media Poll and got in some extra work this summer during a 10-day journey to Spain where they played four games against professional teams, are expecting junior forward Will Barrett to assume a larger role.
“Will wasn’t with us last year,” said Henderson of the 6’8, 197-pound Barrett. “He spent a year off working on and off the floor. He really made a lot of improvements. In Spain, he was a huge addition for us; he led us in rebounding. I think Will has made huge strides personally, both on and off the floor.”
Junior guard T.J. Bray, who made big strides last year when he averaged 7.2 points a game and had a team-high 119 assists, is currently bouncing back from injury.
“T.J. is going to be ready to go, we have been working him back into the live stuff,” said Henderson.
“He will be fine; like any really competitive guy, he is just chomping at the bit here to get going but we have got some time. I think you will see him early and we are building towards him being full speed by mid-November.”
As Bray gets up to speed, Henderson is trying some different options at guard as the Tigers look to fill the void left by the graduated Douglas Davis, the former Hun School star who ended his Princeton career with 1,550 points, the second most in program history.
“I like what we are seeing out of Chris Clement (0.5 points and 0.5 rebounds last year) and Denton Koon (5.1 points, 3.1 rebounds),” asserted Henderson.
“We are really asking those two guys to do something that is a little unique; they are both playing in the backcourt for the first time.”
In Henderson’s view, his trio of freshmen, 6‘3 guard Mike Washington, Jr., 6’ 8 forward Hans Brase, and 7’1 center Edo Lawrence, could do some good things this winter.
“Mike is a shooter; he is athletic and he is a bigger guard,” said Henderson. “He has a long way to go in understanding how hard you have you play in college. I really like where Mike is at the moment. I feel comfortable with the guys that are in front of him too so I think Mike is going to have his work cut out for him but he is ready for that challenge. Hans Brase is really playing well. I think Hans is going to help us immediately, especially on the boards. Edo Lawrence is playing behind two senior centers and a sophomore center but again he is another guy who has really worked hard on just improving his habits here. I really like the look of the class as it adds to the rest of the group.”
The Tigers will get exposed to some different looks in a non-conference slate that includes such formidable foes as Rutgers, Syracuse, Kent State, Drexel, Rider, and Bucknell.
“I think it is a very challenging schedule for us; each of those teams are a little bit different,” said Henderson.
“We have teams that are perimeter-oriented and then teams who have a really good big guy like Bucknell. It is a challenge and that’s what we want. We want to be playing our best basketball in January.”