After Emotional Jadwin Finale for PU Men’s Hoops, Senior Star Stephens Primed for Ivy Tourney Run
FINAL MILE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Myles Stephens dribbles up the floor in recent action. Senior star and captain Stephens played well in his final weekend at Jadwin Gym but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 67-63 to Brown on Friday and 81-59 to Yale a day later. Stephens had 11 points and seven rebounds in the loss to the Bears and then chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds against the Bulldogs. Princeton, now 16-11 overall and 8-6 Ivy League, is next in action when it competes in the Ivy postseason tournament. The third-seeded Tigers will face second-seeded and host Yale in the semis on March 16 in New Haven, Conn. with the victor advancing to the title game the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As Myles Stephens left the floor at Jadwin Gym last Saturday for the last time in his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team, he hugged his coaches and teammates one by one as he went to the end of the bench.
Moments after Princeton’s 81-59 loss to Yale in the home finale, he embraced some of his former teammates gathered courtside as he made his away to the locker room.
Stephens acknowledged that he had a lot on his mind as the evening unfolded.
“Four years is a long time and as a student athlete, you spend so much time coming down here every day, lifting, conditioning and practicing,” said Stephens. “I was definitely a little emotional.”
As a native of nearby Lawrenceville, Stephens has received some extra fan backing over his career with the Tigers.
“It means a lot, it is nice,” said the 6’5, 210-pound Stephens with a smile.
“I have been able to have a lot of family and friends come to my games throughout the years and that has been special to me. Being a local guy, I have had my friends from middle school come to my games and guys I haven’t seen since high school coming to a game. That is always a cool thing. To have them support me is definitely special.”
This winter, senior captain Stephens had to provide extra support to his teammates as fellow senior star Devon Cannady recently left the program due to personal issues.
“It was a tough time; we went through that as seniors and we had to deal with a lot,” said Stephens.
“I think we dealt with things the right way. We kept our tram together and told them this is then, we have a season to finish. We have goals that are still unaccomplished and we still have those goals to accomplish. We are not done as seniors. We are going to attack this week with the same mentality that we have been attacking the season.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson credited Stephens and his classmates with steadying the ship for the Tigers.
“This group has had to do more than any other group I have ever had here with in terms of dealing with off the court stuff,” said Henderson, whose senior class also included Noah Bramlage and Elias Berbari.
“It is a lot to put on anybody, not being here with one of their teammates that they started off the season with. It is a testament to leadership of the team and keeping things together when they were all over the place for us to be qualified for the tournament. I know we are disappointed in a way, but I see this as a sign of seniors keeping us on path and keeping us focused in the right direction. That is something I am proud of them for that.”
Henderson is proud of what Stephens has given Princeton on the court over the last four years.
“One of the most impressive things I told him was at Cornell, guarding Matt Morgan and winning in OT,” said Henderson of Stephens, who has scored 1,332 points and grabbed 557 rebounds in his Princeton career and was named the 2016-17 Ivy Defensive Player of the Year.
“It was taking a task and making it personal. We have relied heavily on his defensive progress, his ability to get easy baskets for us, and then rebounding nightly. He had 13 [points] and 9 [rebounds] tonight, that seemed like a normal evening for him. We are going to miss all of that a lot.”
Princeton, now 16-11 overall and 8-6 Ivy League, will be looking to send Stephens and the seniors out on a high note as it competes in the Ivy postseason tournament this weekend.
“This is what we have been waiting for; there is a big picture of Myles with an NCAA tournament sticker on,” said Henderson, whose team is seeded third and will face second-seeded and host Yale in the semis on March 16 in New Haven, Conn. with the victor advancing to the title game the next day against the winner of the other semifinal piting top-seeded Harvard versus fourth-seeded Penn.
“Let’s put these guys back in the tournament again; all you have got to do is play 80 minutes well.”
Noting that Tigers had to fight to pull out the crown in the 2016-17 season when it entered the inaugural league tourney with an undefeated Ivy mark, Henderson likes being in the underdog role this year.
“We were in a position two years ago where we were in the first tournament and we were going down on the road,” said Henderson, whose team went on to fall 60-58 to Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament that season.
“All eyes were on us so the shoe is on other foot. We are in it. We are really happy about being in it and we have got a big week ahead.”
Henderson believes that his squad can rise to the occasion. “You play Saturday; you have one more day to prepare and we got an opportunity to get a little healthy,” said Henderson, noting that he is hopeful that sophomore star Ryan Schwieger will be back in action after being sidelined last weekend due to a concussion. “We have to play better and we will; we are going to work really hard at it this week.”
Stephens, for his part, wants to keep his Princeton career going for as long as possible.
“We have to play well, we have to make our shots, and we have to play better defensively,” said Stephens.
“I don’t think we have played well this past weekend. We just have to play harder and I know we can do it. Sometimes you need a couple of bounces to go your way. I think we can get over that hump.”