Coming Off Disappointing 2017-18 Campaign, PU Men’s Hoops Aiming to Regain Winning Ways
MOVING FORWARD: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jerome Desrosiers, right, drives to the basket in a practice last week. The Tigers will be relying on sophomore forward Desrosiers to build on the progress he made last winter. The Tigers open their 2018-19 campaign by hosting DeSales University on November 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
There will be a new look around Princeton’s Jadwin Gym as the college basketball season tips off this week with a new four-sided video board hanging over the court and a revamped seating configuration.
Coming off a disappointing 2017-18 season that saw the Princeton University men’s basketball team go 13-16 overall and 5-9 Ivy League, the Tigers are vowing to be new and improved.
“I think, after last year, we refocused as a team,” said senior guard and co-captain Myles Stephens, who averaged 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last winter.
“We came together and what happened last year we don’t want that to happen again. We know we have the talent here to compete within the league. It comes with that focus and mindset that we are a good basketball team and the better team we are as individuals, the better we can do on the court. Even though we do have a lot of young guys, we’re all really talented and we all bring something to the table and I think that’s going to help us in the end.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson is relying on Stephens and fellow senior star Devin Cannady (16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds) to set a winning tone this winter.
“It wasn’t a great year for the program and we had to correct a lot of things with the group coming back, and it starts with the leadership returning,” said Henderson, whose team tips off its 2018-19 campaign by hosting DeSales University on November 9.
“Between the two of them, they’ve played in a lot of basketball games. We’re going to lean heavily on both of them, their leadership, their example, and so I’d say there are a lot of fresh faces, but when the rubber hits the road, it’s these two. They have to help us and continue to invest in their young teammates, and help us grow.”
Henderson is looking for his team to show marked growth at the defensive end of the court.
“The first (change) is you have to defend; if you’re going to be really good in this league or anywhere in the country, you have to play a hard-nosed defense,” said Henderson.
“We can score. We lost some really heartbreaking games, but when you look at the games towards the end and even the overtime games where we struggled, I think it’s our defense. We graduated a terrific player in Amir [Bell] defensively, but between these two guys we have the ability to be a very tough-nosed defensive team. I think that’s where you have to hang your hat on in this league.”
Cannady, for his part, is helping his teammates buy into the defensive emphasis.
“You just focus on it in practice,” said Cannady, who is on track to break the program record for three-pointers as he has 218, 63 behind the 281 posted by Brian Earl ’99.
“It’s been one of our key points in the spring, before the freshmen came in, and even now going over our principles and small details and then constantly pounding the hammer on the nail and taking care of that during practice. Then when we compete, if someone doesn’t do one of our rules or principles, really grabbing them and telling them, ‘This is how we do things.’ It’s one thing we’re trying to help the freshmen out with, both Myles and I. It’s something we take pride in.”
The Tigers boast a promising freshmen class with the addition of Jaelin Llewellyn, Drew Friberg, Colby Kyle, Max Johns, and Ethan Wright.
“We’ve relied heavily in the last few weeks on Jaelin getting us started in things,” said Henderson.
“Drew is another guy that makes a lot of shots. I love the freshman class. Colby is coming back from an injury. Max and Ethan are all going to help us. Jaelin is very advanced for a freshman. He has an understanding of space in a college basketball game, and he’s so fast, he’s able to get himself into little spaces just by changing the position of the defense. And he doesn’t play like a freshman. You’ll see him out there quite a bit.”
Henderson is hoping to get a lot of help from his corps of sophomores – Sebastian Much (7.1 points, 2.7 rebounds), Jerome Desrosiers (6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds), Ryan Schwieger (2.8 points, 1.7 rebounds), and Elijah Barnes (1.8 points, 2.0 rebounds in nine games).
“We just need to see carry-over from the experience they got a year ago to what they’re doing now,” said Henderson.
“Sometimes when you’re a freshman, the expectations aren’t always there. It’s sort of nice to be a freshman and be a recipient of a lot of things. Now there’s an expectation and we have to trust that you’re going to be there for us every single day.”
Juniors Will Gladson (3.6 points, 1.3 rebounds in 15 games) and Richmond Aririguzoh (2.7 points, 1.7 rebounds) figure to be there in the paint for Princeton.
“We missed Will quite a bit last year; he did not get an opportunity to play significant minutes in practice,” said Henderson.
“He barely played during the season so he’ll be a help, as will Richmond. Those guys are juniors and are acting like it and walking around like they know what they’re doing a little bit more, which is good. At the end, I think rebounding is about having the tenacity to go up there and get it in college, grab rebounds with two hands and have the discipline to box your guy out.”
The Tigers have the versatility to mix things up offensively depending on the situation.
“We have three different ways to play, and one of those ways is going to be pushing the ball up the court,” maintained Henderson.
“That takes advantage of some of the strengths that the group has. I like the idea of Devin being down the court and us looking for him, I like Myles being up the court. I like the ball in Jaelin’s hands, Devin’s hands, Jose Morales’ hands as they come up the court too. I think we’re going to be very difficult to guard. We have a lot of different ways to score, a lot of different people that can do things and have lots of different strengths.”
While it is too early to know how strong Princeton is going to be this winter, Henderson likes the vibe around his squad.
“They like each other; it’s a fun group to be around,” said Henderson. “I’ve told them this too. We’ve had teams that they’ve played on that have a lot of veterans, but what stands out is they’re fun to coach. I don’t know how many wins we’re going to get, but I think it’s going to be a fun season.”