Princeton Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril dies at 92

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Pete Carril, a Hall of Fame college basketball coach who developed a system of play known as Princeton Offense, which propelled his undersized Princeton teams to heroic performances against division powerhouses I of the NCAA and shaped the way the game is played from high school to the National Basketball Association, died Aug. 15 in a Philadelphia hospital. He was 92 years old.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said her grandson, Pete Carill.

As an Ivy League school, Princeton does not award athletic scholarships, and for 29 seasons — from 1967-68 to 1995-96 — Mr. Carril groomed future lawyers, professors and government officials to face teams filled with future NBA draft picks, especially during postseason tournament play.

Mr. Carril designed a half-court attack requiring constant movement from all five players, with disciplined passes and quick cuts to the basket for open shots. The goal was to spread the floor, slow the shot clock and wear down defenders until they made a mistake – or a Princeton player cleared for a lay-up or a jump shot.

“The main thing is to get a good shot every time on the floor,” said Mr. Carril (pronounced kuh-RILL) who was inspired by the selfless play of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in the 1960s. “If it’s outdated, then I’m guilty.”

During Mr. Carril’s time at Princeton, his team won the National Invitational Tournament in 1975, clinched 13 Ivy League titles, earned 11 NCAA tournament berths and ambushed basketball powerhouses like UCLA, Indiana and Duke. He was the only Division I men’s coach to win over 500 games (most against Ivy League teams) without athletic scholarships, and in 1997 he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“We went into every game thinking we had an advantage no matter who we were playing against because we were incredibly well prepared,” Matt Eastwick, one of Mr Carril’s former players, told the website. Go Princeton Tigers in 2007. what mark of a great coach?

Yet the most famous game Mr. Carril coached was the one Princeton lost.

In the first round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament, his 16th-seeded Tigers faced No. 1 seed Georgetown, a team anchored by 6-foot-10 Alonzo Mourning and 7-foot-2 Dikembe Mutombo, both future NBA Hall of Famers. .

To simulate their towering presences in training, Mr Carril told his assistants to hold broomsticks for his much smaller players to tug on. During pregame warmups, ESPN announcer Mike Gorman said Princeton, a 23-point underdog with no players taller than 6-foot-8, looked like a high school team that had fallen into the bad gym.

But Princeton’s zone defense forced the Hoyas to settle for outside shots, while the Tigers ran through the backdoor, players rushing for the ball then cutting behind their defenders’ backs to the basket for layups easy. At halftime, Princeton had a shocking eight-point lead. Georgetown came back in the second half and won by a single point, 50-49, but the game was seen as vindication for small schools and changed the nature of the NCAA tournament.

Until then, first-round matches were relegated to cable television. But the prospect of more David vs. Goliath Barnburners helped persuade CBS to sign a seven-year, $1 billion deal with the NCAA to televise every game of the tournament, turning college basketball’s March Madness into a cultural phenomenon rivaling the Super Bowl.

Prior to the game, NCAA officials considered revoking automatic offers for weaker conferences because their teams were often eliminated. Princeton’s gripping near-miss quashed those discussions and opened the door for future small fry upheavals such as Middle Tennessee State, Florida’s Gulf Coast, Northern Iowa and the University of Maryland. in Baltimore County. Sports Illustrated dubbed Princeton-Georgetown “The Game That Saved March Madness”.

Years later, Mr. Carril admitted that his goal was much more modest. “We were trying not to embarrass each other,” he said.

With his gnome stature, floppy ears and unruly tufts of white hair, Mr. Carril has drawn comparisons to Yoda, the Jedi Master from the Star Wars films. He prowled the sidelines with a game program clenched in his fist, imploring his players. Once, when his cross cut the wrong way, the frustrated coach tore his own shirt in half.

“He was tough on guys and tough on me, but very rarely got it wrong,” Geoff Petrie, who played for Princeton in the late 1960s before joining the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s had an incredible career as a coach basically outwitting people.”

In the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, Mr. Carril eluded defending national champions UCLA.

To deprive the strongest and fastest Bruins of the fast break, he ordered his players to rush defense and execute their deliberate small-ball attack, which one sportswriter compared to the “torture of the water”. The game went to the wire with Princeton scoring the winning basket on a backdoor layup by Gabe Lewullis, a future orthopedic surgeon.

Despite such victories, Mr. Carril struggled to persuade high school students to reject full scholarships from other universities and play for him.

“Princeton can be a tough sell to a highly recruited kid,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “What can I tell him? That if he has good grades, a 1,200 SAT score, and generous parents, we might consider letting him in? »

Peter Joseph Carril was born on July 10, 1930, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where his Spanish immigrant father spent decades as a steelworker and raised his son as a single father. He grew up in a $21 a month apartment where he could smell the smoke from Bethlehem Steel across the street.

Mr. Carril played pool and hoop at the Bethlehem Boys Club. Although he is only 5-foot-7, he played on his high school team and later played at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. His shrewd game and, later, coaching philosophy reflected his father’s oft-repeated maxim: the strong out of the weak, but the smart out of the strong.

As a senior, in 1952, he earned Little All America honors for small college players. But after a brief service in the army, when he showed up for his first coaching job at Easton High School, he was mistaken for a janitor. In 1959, he earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Lehigh University in his hometown.

At Reading (Pennsylvania) High School, he compiled a 145-42 record. Then he coached for a year at Lehigh before moving to Princeton in 1967. He was hired on the recommendation of his predecessor at Princeton, Butch van Breda Kolff, who had coached Mr Carril at Lafayette and went on to a long career coaching in the NBA.

It came two years after van Breda Kolff and Bill Bradley, Princeton’s greatest player and future U.S. senator, led the Tigers to third place in the NCAA Tournament.

As the big schools became increasingly dominant, Mr. Carril’s teams never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But he won 514 games at Princeton, giving him a total of 525 collegiate wins. He shrugged off the feat, saying, “It just means I’ve been around for a while.”

His marriage to Dolores Halteman ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, Peter Carril of Princeton and Lisa Carril of Pennington, NJ; and two grandchildren.

After leaving Princeton, Mr. Carril’s basketball philosophy spread, thanks in part to several of his assistants who became head coaches, including Bill Carmody at Princeton, John Thompson III at Georgetown and Craig Robinson. (the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama) in the state of Oregon.

The Princeton Offense has even been adopted by NBA teams, despite the league’s reputation for selfish one-on-one play. Mr. Carril spent the last decade of his career, from 1996 to 2006, teaching it to the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach.

Outside the basketball court, Mr. Carril had few hobbies other than smoking Macanudo cigars, a habit he gave up after a heart attack in 2000.

“I derive my happiness from seeing things done well,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “from being successful, from seeing the interaction of people working together for a good cause, from pouring their hearts out on the floor, to give you the best they have.

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