After more than a month of preseason practices, the wait was over for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it hosted Florida A&M last Sunday to tip off the regular season.
Two of the Tigers, though, had to exercise some extra patience in connection with the opener.
Senior guard Jimmy Sherburne was returning to action after being sidelined for a year due to a shoulder injury while junior star Denton Koon was utilized in a sixth man role off the bench.
Looking like he hadn’t missed a beat, Sherburne scored a career-high 13 points with Koon producing a double-double on a game-high 17 points and 11 rebounds as Princeton cruised to a 67-50 win over the Rattlers.
Sherburne, for his part, enjoyed his return to action. “It feels good to be back, it has been a while,” said Sherburne, a 6’3, 197-pound native of Whitefish Bay, Wisc. who also contributed five assists and four rebounds.
“I was just telling the guys before the game, we have waited a long time for this, some of us longer than others. I fall into that category. It was everything I thought it would be. I took that year off for a reason and this was it. It definitely feels good.”
While the sixth-man role was an adjustment for Koon, who made 24 starts last winter, he made the most of the assignment.
“It was a little different,” said Koon, a 6’8, 210-pound native of Liberty, Mo. who averaged 10.5 points a game last winter.
“I just think it is about, especially early in the season, just getting things moving. We got a lot of new pieces this year, a couple of new freshmen in the lineup with Pete [Miller] and Spencer [Weisz] so I think it is just important to play the right way and get a new flow. We have a new look, a new lineup, and a new way that we are playing things.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the way the Tigers handled their business on Sunday.
“It is a nice opener for us and I just told the guys that I think there are a lot of positives and some things to work on,” said Henderson, whose team jumped out to a 38-23 halftime lead and cruised to victory over the 0-2 Rattlers.
“I really liked some of the things that were happening on offense. We had a little bit of a slide there on defense but they do that to you. They spread you out, they are very fast. Overall, I am fairly pleased and I think there are a lot of positives for us to work on.”
Henderson pointed to the play of Sherburne and Koon as two of the major positives on Sunday.
“I am really happy, Jimmy made his first three, that was good,” said Henderson, whose team went 12-of-31 from the three-point range in the victory.
“I will say that it is really important that our program is defined by the way Denton did things today. I am pleased and proud of the way he played because he made other guys better. He got two assists, a big one in the corner to Jimmy. I am putting a little less stock in who is starting right now and more about the way we are doing things.”
Freshman Spencer Weisz started his Princeton career in style, scoring five points with six rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes of action.
“Spencer is really advanced for a freshman in terms of the game,” said Henderson, who also got 12 points from senior Will Barrett in the victory.
“He had consistently been one of our top rebounders in scrimmages and practices and he gets six tonight which I think is important for us. He sort of plays the game like a 40-year old man, unfortunately he also moves like a 40-year-old man sometimes. He really knows how to play.”
With Princeton heading to Indiana on November 16 for a game at Butler University, an NCAA finalist in 2010 and 2011, Henderson is looking for his team to build on its promising start.
“We are going to a really tough place to play in a week,” said Henderson, of the contest which will be a homecoming for him as he was a three-sport star at the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind. during his high school days.
“We appreciate things like that. We feel that Jadwin is a special place to play so we are really excited getting out there. It is just about the day to day and getting better. It is process coaching. We have an opportunity to be very balanced and I think that is the emphasis.”
Koon, for his part, appreciates the chance to get on the court, no matter what role he assumes.
“It’s more just game by game and being where the team needs me,” said Koon.
“I am just looking to contribute in any way I can, help the other guys get better, and help us win.”