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Vol. LXIV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
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INSIDE STUFF: The recently released “Outside the Limelight” by Kathy Orton provides an inside account of Ivy League men’s hoops. Orton’s 212-page book chronicles the 2005-06 season and features several sections on the Princeton men’s squad.

“Outside the Limelight” Book Goes Inside to Shine a Light on Ivy League Men’s Hoops

Bill Alden

For Washington Post sportswriter Kathy Orton, getting assigned to cover the Princeton-Penn men’s basketball game in Philadelphia in February, 1999 seemed to be a nice change of pace from her normal beat of Big East and Atlantic Coast Conference hoops.

As it turned out, that assignment became a life-changing experience on several levels for the veteran reporter.

The contest turned out to be one of the most memorable in the annals of the storied rivalry as Princeton overcame a 33-9 halftime deficit to pull out a 50-49 victory.

Witnessing that game not only provided Orton with an unforgettable experience, it transformed her into an aficionado of Ivy League hoops.

“The game was awful at first but I was there doing a feature thing and I could just plug in the score anyway,” recalled Orton.

“All of a sudden, it became what is Princeton doing? You had to watch the game. As I was walking to the car afterward with “Hoops” Weiss (New York Daily News reporter Dick Weiss), we both said can you believe what we just saw. It was an amazing game, one you never forget. I started following the Ivy League after that. It is such a cool league and nobody knows about it.”

Orton’s love of the Ivy men’s hoops triggered a long-held desire. “I have always wanted to write a book and I wondered do I have it in me; can I really do it,” said Orton.

“People had told me that you will be living with it so write about something that you are passionate about. I decided that I wanted to shine a light on the Ivy League.”

As a result, Orton spent the 2005-06 season following Ivy basketball, focusing on Princeton, Penn, Cornell, and Harvard. Recently her inside account of the season, Outside the Limelight, was published by the Rutgers University Press.

In reflecting on putting together the 212-page book, Orton said that she gained even more respect for the players after being around them for the winter.

“Big time college basketball is becoming jaded,” asserted Orton. “This was different and under the radar. They are privileged schools but they are at the bottom of the totem pole of college basketball. I wasn’t ready for the travel, the bus rides are grueling. The players study on the bus, there are no tutors or study halls like at the big schools.”

Orton’s experience was enhanced by the welcome she got from the coaches.

“The access was amazing,” said Orton. “They were let me on the bus rides, in pre-game film sessions, the locker room. All the coaches and players trusted me.”

The time that Orton spent around the Princeton program produced some of the more nuanced passages in the book through her portraits of Tiger head coach Joe Scott and senior point guard Scott Greenman.

“Joe Scott can be a polarizing figure; I wasn’t sure how I would be received by him,” said Orton.

“He was great; he let me into practices. I went out to California on the trip to Stanford. The team got off to such an awful start and then turned it around. I wanted to show that Joe was a more complex figure than others may see him. I was smitten with Scotty Greenman. He was the only senior and he saw himself as holding up the Princeton tradition by himself. He is so similar to and yet so different from Joe Scott.”

Due to some delay in firming up a publisher, Orton’s book came out later than planned, necessitating a 10-page postscript laying out the coaching changes and other developments in the Ivy hoops scene.

“The epilogue supposed to be a couple of pages,” said Orton. “It went through many revisions with all the changes. It almost became a mini-book.”

Orton faced another serious challenge in getting the book to print as she underwent a heart operation while doing the project.

“It is not a great idea to write a book when you need open heart surgery,” said Orton. “I was so determined. The doctor told me to wait for another season and but the 2005-06 season was the 50th anniversary of the league. It was good to be able to focus on something besides my heart.”

With the book having hit the stores, Orton appreciates the heartfelt responses she has received from Ivy players and others.

“I didn’t care about the reviews, what mattered to me was the people I was writing about and what they thought,” said Orton.

“I have to say the response has been fabulous; it means so much to me. I have had a web dialog with Luke Owings [former Princeton standout] and I got a nice note from Scott Greenman. Other readers have been in touch; it is nice to hear that they see the league in a different light.”

Orton is proud to have put the Ivies in the limelight. “The players aren’t going to the NBA and the coaches aren’t going to the Final 4,” added Orton, who was looking to covering the Cornell-Harvard clash last weekend.

“They do it for passion and the love of a great game. This is what you want to see in college sports. They are really thoughtful, really introspective people.”

And Orton has honored those people with her thoughtful account.

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