Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Speaking Of Indiana

Did TigerBlog mention that he was in Indiana last week?

It was actually his fourth trip to the state, all four of which have been for Princeton Athletics business. It dawned on TB as he got on the plane to head there nearly a week ago that it was the first time he'd be making the trip without Tom McCarthy - Princeton's former football and basketball radio voice - as his travel partner.

The first of the four trips was in March 1996, for what figured to be a quick stay at the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It was an emotional few days for the Tigers, who had just snapped an eight-game losing streak to Penn with a stunning overtime win over Penn at Lehigh in an Ivy League playoff game, on a night that became even more stunning when Pete Carril announced that he would be retiring after the NCAA tournament.

As for that NCAA tournament, it all seemed like it was going to be so anti-climatic. Princeton drew UCLA, the defending NCAA champion, at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Even as he prepared to go, TigerBlog figured that Princeton fans would talk about that night at Lehigh forever, with little thought given to the following tournament game.

As it turned out, TB was wrong. In one of the more amazing things about TB's time here, that playoff game against Penn has been relegated to an afterthought, even though, really, it's one of the top three or so most emotional events TB has been a part of here.

TigerBlog has heard many of the players involved say that the win over Penn meant more to them than what happened a few days later, when Princeton beat UCLA 43-41 in one of the most famous college basketball games ever.

As TB walked from the Westin to the Indiana Convention Center the other day, he couldn't remember which of the several hotels that are all connected by walkways was the one in which he stayed in 1996. He does remember the walkways, which took him to the RCA Dome - which no longer exists - and today would take someone all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium.

He also remembers that, back in 1996, his postseason media guides were shipped to Indianapolis, to the RCA Dome. When he got there, the guides were nowhere to be found, and he had to struggle to quickly get them reprinted, which he was able to do. It wasn't until he got back to Princeton that he wondered whatever happened to the original guides, and when he investigated, he found out that a very nice woman signed for them and put them in a closet. They were probably still there in 2007, when the building was torn down.

Speaking of the RCA Dome, TB will also never be able to think about his time there without remembering the sign that then-intern Vinnie DiCarlo brought back with him, the one that said "This Is Not A Public Entrance To The RCA Dome."

The days TB spent at the RCA Dome were obviously among the best, if not the very best, that he has had in his time at Princeton. After the win over UCLA, everyone in the area immediately became a Princeton fan, especially in the local restaurants, when TB and the travel party went to eat and found out that there was a Princeton connection. It was an incredible trip, from start to just about finish, as the second round loss to Mississippi State was a big letdown.

One last story - TB assumed that Princeton was going to lose to UCLA, so he only packed to stay until the day after the first round. Once Princeton won, he had to go to the local mall to buy clothes for the next two days.

His next two trips to Indiana were also for Princeton basketball, each time with a different head coach.

The first was later in 1996, when Bill Carmody coached his first game as Carril's successor, at Indiana University. TigerBlog, as well as McCarthy and Mark Eckel, then of the Trenton Times, missed their flight from Newark to Indianapolis on the day of the game because of a major accident at Newark Airport. Instead, they ended up driving to Philadelphia, getting on another flight and making it to Bloomington on time, but with not much time to spare.

Then, in 2000, the flight was to Indianapolis and then a two hour drive to Muncie, home of Ball State University. It was there that John Thompson III won his first - and then second - games as a head coach, as Princeton knocked off Weber State and Ball State to win the First Merchants Classic.

JT3 and the rest of the staff celebrated both nights, by the way, at the local Outback Steakhouse.

Anyway, the trip last week included a stop at the Purdue-Wisconsin game. TB watched Purdue blow away the Badgers at Mackey Arena and then watched essentially a repeat on TV Saturday at Iowa. Purdue is for real.

Added all together, and TB has gone to Indiana four times. In those four trips, he's seen 12 college basketball games, only five of which featured the Tigers, with three different Tiger head coaches.

Indiana. Basketball.

There's a movie in there somewhere.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Remembering Rob Myslik, 15 Years Later

TigerBlog was copied on an email from Jim Barlow yesterday that mentioned that it was the 15th anniversary of the tragic death of Rob Myslik.

If you don't know who Rob was, he was the son of former Director of Athletics Bob Myslik and a 1990 Princeton grad. He and Barlow, the men's soccer coach at Princeton, were teammates together, and Rob then was an assistant coach under Barlow at one point.

Rob was killed in a car accident on Jan. 21, 2003. He was in Utah, on his way to the Sundance Film Festival. TigerBlog knew Rob, but not very well. He did know that he was a really nice, really friendly, really thoughtful, really impressive person.

Barlow and Rob were best friends. It was five years ago, on the 10th anniversary, when Barlow wrote a guest TigerBlog in memory of his friend. He included the link in his email yesterday, and TigerBlog wants to rerun it here today.

People turn over in a college athletic department. The athletes, certainly, as they only get four years to be there. And the staff of the department, while not quite that transitional, still has very few people here who would know who Rob Myslik is.

That's why what Jim wrote is so important. Rob was a huge part of the soccer program at Princeton, and his memory lives on, with the name of the game field (Myslik Field) at Roberts Stadium and especially with those who knew him best. Like Jim Barlow.

And so here is what Jim wrote five years ago, without a word changed:
When I started to think of what I might say today, and began to get nervous about trying to “say the right things,” I was reminded of the words that Toni Morrison spoke after the tragedy of September 11th.  I keep these words taped to the wall behind my desk.  She said to the Princeton University community -- “I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say….” (at first, this line seemed really appropriate for me – if you knew Rob no words are necessary – he revealed himself to you in ways beyond mere words and we all know that -- if you did not know him, well, then words do not suffice) – The more I thought about it, though, the more I could hear Rob’s voice saying “what a cop out.”  A talker like no one else, he would want us to talk, to share, to live this moment here today like we live every other one.

So I kept reading over Morrison’s words about addressing the broken and the dead without any anger, self-promotion, cliché – without any agendas. She said that speaking to the broken and the dead is “too holy an act for impure thoughts” because “the dead are free, absolute, they cannot be seduced by blitz.” The more I thought about it the more I realized that this is how people spoke to Rob when he was alive.  Of all the people I have ever met, he was already the most free, absolute.  He remained immune to societal measures of success – the same “blitz” of which Morrison speaks.  He refused to be seduced by money or status…What seduced him was life – being awake in each moment and squeezing as much as possible out of every day.  I think his battles with insomnia were a reflection of this need to always be AWAKE
(taken from my eulogy on Rob Myslik written in January, 2003)
As I finished reading this year’s New Year/holiday update letter from Rob Myslik’s sister Melora and her husband Andrew Balson, I could not get past the following sentence:
“As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the loss of our beloved Robby, we continue to try to live our lives to the fullest, as he knew how better than most.”
Ten years.  
Wow. 

I can remember that day so vividly - being awoken in my hotel room in Guadlajara, Mexico with an urgent message to call home.  I had assumed that my wife PK was checking on me as there had been a big earthquake in Mexico that night.  When I phoned her, however, she delivered the life-changing news  – Rob was killed in a car accident.

In the eulogy I gave at his memorial service days later, I started off by saying, “These days, everything reminds me of Rob.”

Ten years later not much has changed. 

So many things continue to remind me of Rob.  Big things remind me, like our game field (named in Rob’s memory), our prestigious Robert Hauter Myslik Award (awarded to the member of the team who most demonstrates the passion for life, the fiery competitiveness, the unwavering honesty and the selfless generosity of Rob), the Reach the Beach 200-mile relay that is run in his memory each year, and, the biggest of all, his daughter Maggie (who will turn 10 in the fall). 

But so many little things also remind me, like a passionate debate, a competitive practice, a frank discussion, a playful dog, a bad referee, a pizza at De Lorenzo’s, a beat-up, smelly car, Princeton soccer, Princeton basketball, a good book.  I can’t help but imagine Rob’s insights into everyday life.
What would he think of the Lance Armstrong interview, of the imaginary girlfriend at Notre Dame?   Would he have liked Les Mis as much as TigerBlog?  What would he think of our team?  What suggestions would he have for the line-up?  Our practices? What would his player ratings have been after each game?  How much would he have heckled Penn fans at last week’s basketball game?

As I write this guest TigerBlog, I have the Liverpool/Norwich game on in the background.  After Liverpool scored, the announced called it a “scrappy” goal.  My first thought?  You guessed it  – one of Rob’s many nicknames was Scrappy.

Yes, ten years later and Rob is still everywhere.  But not everyone knows him. We keep a picture of
Rob on the bench at our games.  On one of our road trips this season, I asked a freshman to carry the picture on the bus and be responsible for making sure the picture made it to the bench and back on the bus.  “By the way, “ I asked him, “do you know who that is in the picture?”

After a long pause he looked back at me. “Yes,” he guessed, “is it PK?”

The bus roared in laughter, but the incident served as a reminder that many of our current players don’t know anything about Rob Myslik, about a person who was such a huge part of what Princeton Soccer is and of the values that make our program special.  Rob’s story needs to be told every season, every time a group of freshmen arrive on campus.  There can be no better role model for them. On the tenth anniversary of his tragic death, Rob continues to teach us, in Melora’s words, how to live our lives to the fullest.

Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the part
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
(from John O’Donohue’s On Grief)

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Trip To Indiana, Part 2


The honorees stood together on the stage in the Sagamore Ballroom at the Indiana Convention Center, some with very familiar names and very well-known accomplishments and others whose names TigerBlog was hearing for the first time.

Together, this group of fewer than 20 people was making the other 1,000 people in the ballroom think the same thought: "Where in the world do people like this come from?"

As it turned out, the main man of the evening came from out of this world, but TigerBlog will get back to him.

TB actually wanted to start today with the person who impressed him the most at Wednesday night's banquet. He soon realized that would be impossible, since they all impressed him, and everyone else there, to an extraordinary degree.

Where would he start anyway? With the All-American volleyball player who organized an effort to bring free dental care to those who didn't have access to any? Or maybe the six-time NCAA track and cross country champion who figured she might as well earn a master's as well as a bachelor's from one of the best engineering schools in the country?

How about the Air Force Brigadier General, the former baseball player, whose current position has him overseeing the defense of South Korean and American lives in South Korea?

Or the former four-time Super Bowl quarterback who lost his son to a rare disease but who keeps his memory alive through a foundation that is relentlessly looking for cures, all, by the way, while he himself has had to battle cancer not once but twice? Or the former women's soccer star and current commentator whose mission has been to empower little girls to see the positive effects athletic participation can have? Or the former women's basketball player who prevented a massacre at a Republican congressional baseball practice, getting shot herself as she did so?

It went on like this for the better part of three hours, with just one incredible story after another, one incredible person after another. It left TB with no idea where to begin.

So he'll start with David Morrow. And why not? Morrow was the reason TigerBlog was in Indianapolis in the first place.

David Morrow was one of the recipients of the 2018 Silver Anniversary Award, which honors six former college athletes on the 25th anniversary of their graduation. The winners are selected for their performances as athletes as undergrads and then for what they have accomplished in their careers since.

Morrow was the 1993 NCAA men's lacrosse Player of the Year, and, 25 years later, he remains the last defensive player to earn that honor - and one of two all-time to do so. He was a two-time first-team All-America, and he helped lead Princeton to the first of its six NCAA championships as a junior in 1992.

TigerBlog has said this before, and he'll repeat it now. In all of his time at Princeton, he has never seen a more intense athlete than David Morrow. 

Also while at Princeton, Morrow, along with his father, invented the titanium lacrosse stick, something that completely revolutionized the sport. Rather than going through 20 or 30 plastic sticks in a season, now only one was necessary. As much as anything, that alone helped fuel the dramatic growth in the sport the last 25 years.

Morrow's stick design led to the birth of a company, Warrior Lacrosse, which is now a global enterprise. Now, 25 years later, Morrow has literally traveled the world bringing his passion - and intensity - to his business, as well as to the more than 70 charitable organizations to which he has given his money and time.

Morrow, by the way, became the first Princeton alum and fourth former men's lacrosse player from any school to win the award.

TB was the presenter for Morrow's award. His job was to walk out on the stage holding the trophy and then hold it up with Morrow. Then, while the evening host Jack Ford talked to the winner, TB would walk back off-stage with the trophy, which, he learned, would be shipped to Morrow's house.

Before the event began, TB said he hoped the night wasn't remembered for the time the Princeton presenter dropped the award. You know. You don't want to make the wrong kind of history.

TB didn't use those words. He didn't drop the trophy either.

Barry Wilmore did though, a little later on in the evening.

Wilmore - that's actually Captain Wilmore, a retired Naval officer - was the headliner for the evening. He won the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the NCAA's lifetime achievement award, and he would speak last - after the six Silver Anniversary Awards, the 10 Today's Top Ten winners (recognizing 10 recently graduated athletes for their all-around successes as undergraduates) and the winners of the Award of Valor (Crystal Griner, the U.S. Capitol police officer who stopped the shooter at the Congressional baseball practcie) and Inspiration Award (Jim Kelly, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback).

When Captain Wilmore spoke, he mentioned not wanting to make history for the wrong reason. His reference was to not accidentally letting go of the International Space Station and drifting off into space.

Wilmore played football at Tennessee Tech, going from being a walk-on to the team's MVP. He went on to fly combat missions in Desert Storm and then later pilot the space shuttle, not to mention his six months on the space station.

As he began his talk, Wilmore told the story about how on one of his space stations, he came around the back of a ventilation unit, one that was essentially a mirror on the backside. He looked in the mirror and saw himself. He looked out at the vastness of space in one direction and then at the incredible colors that came off the station itself. He had the thought that he was moving at five miles per second, orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes. He could look down and see Hawaii.

And what was his thought? "How did I get here," he said.

The answer, from him and from all of the other honorees, was deeply connected to their college athletic experiences. Wilmore, whose message was both powerful and simple at the same time, concluded by saying that while he doesn't dream of being in space or dream of landing on an aircraft career again, he does dream that he could play college football just one more time.

The lessons that he learned - that they all learned - as college athletes continue to drive them. That was the common theme. How much being a college athlete meant to them, how much they learned from it, how they've taken from that experience lessons that they've drawn on as they've moved along in their lives.

After the ceremony, the award winners went outside the ballroom to a long hallway, where those in attendance could come and greet them. The line to meet Captain Wilmore was long, but TB stood it in anyway, to shake his hand and thank him. Captain Wilmore apologized for speaking for so long, but TB said not to worry, that he could have gone on for twice as long and the room would still have been mesmerized. It was one of the very best speeches TigerBlog has ever heard, given by one of the most impressive people you will ever meet. And TB is pretty sure he did the whole thing without any notes.

TB also said hello to Crystal Griner. She did something extraordinary, something that could have been life-ending, and yet she downplayed any talk that she might be a hero. She seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight, which only made what she did even more incredible.

After that, it was back to the hotel, for a post-banquet celebration. Bill Tierney, Morrow's coach at Princeton, came in from Denver to be there. Jake Steinfeld, who helped found Major League Lacrosse with Morrow, brought his huge personality to be there as well. So did Morrow's large family. Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the Ford Family Director of Athletics who was two years ahead of Morrow at Princeton, came to Indianapolis too.

And TigerBlog was there as well.

He first started to cover Princeton lacrosse when Morrow was a freshman, one who thought that he didn't belong and didn't want to play and even tried to leave the team. TigerBlog had a front-row seat for Morrow's evolution into one of the greatest college lacrosse players ever, and even now, all these years later, TB has never forgotten the way Morrow played the game, with his unmatched blend of grace, athleticism and ferocity.

It was TB's great honor to be the presenter as Morrow was honored Wednesday night.

Maybe TB couldn't tell you who was the most impressive award-winner in Indianapolis, but he can definitely tell you which one was his favorite.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Trip To Indiana, Part 1

Matt Painter's third-ranked Purdue Boilermakers had just dispatched Wisconsin 78-60 Tuesday night, and now he was walking off the court, up the ramp, towards his lockerroom.

Of the nearly 15,000 people in Mackey Arena, presumably only one thought the game on the court was very similar to the Princeton-Cornell game played three days earlier. As Painter left the court, he walked past that one person - TigerBlog. Upon seeing him, Painter stopped and said "it's nice to see you," with a big, friendly smile on his face.

TigerBlog has never met Matt Painter. It's likely that Painter either mistook TB for someone else - though TB was also presumably the only one of the nearly 15,000 there who had been wearing a Princeton Lacrosse sweatshirt - or in the moment after his team looked wildly impressive in winning its 14th straight he would have greeted anyone who happened to be standing there.

Purdue University is located in West Lafayette, Indiana, across the Wabash River from Lafayette. TigerBlog is in Indianapolis as part of the NCAA's annual convention.

And what does someone like TB do when he knows he'll have a free Tuesday night in January in Indiana? He looks for a college basketball game to attend.

Actually his first choice would have been the Indiana Pacers, but the NBA team is away now. That didn't stop him from texting his old Princeton Athletics colleague and friend Ryan Yurko, who works on the Pacers' business operations side.

As he got off the plane, TB asked Yurko if he was free for lunch. Yurko's response was yes, but he wasn't in New Jersey.

Anyway, about an hour later, TB and Yurko were eating macaroni and cheese with chicken, mushrooms and bacon at a restaurant that was two blocks from TB's hotel and two blocks from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers' arena and home of Yurko's office.

After lunch, Yurko gave TB a tour of the building. It was good to see Yurko. TB has written about him before, and the word he uses to best describe him is "amiable."

When he saw the Pacers were on the road, TB looked around for a good college game. He saw that Purdue was home, and he checked to see how far it was from Indianapolis to the campus that produced, among others, Neil Armstrong, Chesley Sullenberger (the captain of the plane that successfully ditched in the Hudson River) and Jerry Ross, another astronaut who 1) flew more shuttle missions than any other astronaut and 2) was honored at the game Tuesday night. The list of alums who have made their mark in the sports world, by the way, is also impressive.

When he found out it was just over an hour to get there, TB emailed Chris Forman, the men's basketball contact at Purdue and someone TB had never met, to see if Chris would leave him a pass. Chris responded that of course he would and left him a credential and a parking pass in the media lot, which turns out is located essentially in the end zone of the football stadium.

It wasn't until TigerBlog he knew he was going to the game that he checked and saw that Purdue was ranked third. And hadn't lost in awhile.

TigerBlog pulled into West Lafayette a little after 5, two hours before the opening tip. He didn't mind. He wanted to look around and see what went into a gamenight there.

Prior to Tuesday, TigerBlog had been to basketball games at Indiana, Michigan State, Illinois and Penn State of the Big Ten, not to mention Maryland and obviously Rutgers prior to when they were in the league. This, though, would be his first experience with a Big Ten regular season league game, or any Power Five regular season league game, for that matter.

As he snooped here and there, TB drew the attention of a man who came over to him and asked who he was and what he was doing. He seemed a tad suspicious. Once TB explained the situation, the man - Tom - said that he was a local police officer who also is in charge of security at basketball games. He then proceeded to tell TB that he'd show him around, give him the sense of what Purdue basketball was like.

He couldn't have been nicer. Then again, neither could anyone else TB met there. He had a seat in the press section, located at midcourt on the concourse level, where he watched the scene unfold while he ate his brisket nachos (highly, highly recommended - though not exactly the healthiest day of eating he's ever had). From there he could see all of the great in-game traditions, from the introductions with the lights out through the different cheers through the way the band's sound poured all over the arena. He was curious about what the promotions would be during media timeouts, but they were mostly about honoring individuals and teams - from a space shuttle astronaut to a football team that just won a bowl game to the recently crowned cheerleading national champs.

He also saw how good Purdue is. The Boilermakers ran out to a 12-0 start by draining four straight three-pointers, and the game was never close. It was sort of like Princeton-Cornell, where Princeton got out to a 19-0 lead, whereas this one was 17-2, and neither game was every close after that. Also the home fans loved both games.

Purdue was sharp on offense. It was smothering on defense. It was a game, TB supposes, that Princeton head coaches Mitch Henderson and Courtney Banghart would have loved.

Purdue swarmed to the ball without fouling much. No pass was easy. No shot was uncontested. Wisconsin, a team that averaged 11 turnovers a game, turned it over 20 against Purdue. The best part of the game wasn't one of the dunks or three-pointers. It was when 7-3 freshman center Matt Haarms had consecutive blocked shots near the basket on one possession and then let out an exalted scream that got the crowd even more fired up.

As TB watched, his thoughts were also about how Princeton's best players would fit in with Purdue. Especially the one who is an Indiana native, Devin Cannady.

The answer, TB thinks, is very, very well. Cannady obviously can shoot threes. He would do well with the pace. Like Purdue's starting guards, Cannady isn't huge, but he is also a tenacious defender like he is, and, with Haarms and another seven-footer on the back end of the defense, he would contest and harass the other team as it crossed midcourt and get the kinds of steals that Purdue did.

TigerBlog has always like doing what he did Tuesday night, ever since he's been at Princeton. He's loved the chance to go to places he otherwise never would, to see how other schools approach their athletic programs and put on their events.

He's stumbled onto some great places along the way. Lafayette, Louisiana, was one of them. Now he can add West Lafayette to that list.

He absolutely loved his experience at Purdue. He can't say enough good things about the people he met there.

He'd love to see a Princeton-Purdue game, maybe in the second round of the NCAA tournament in two months. That would be awesome.

Yes, he'd root for Princeton in that game. Short of that, though, he wants to see his new favorite team, the Purdue Boilermakers, win it all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"My Favorite Was No. 2"

If you want to know one of the very best things about Princeton Athletics, TigerBlog has a story for you.

It starts with Dei Lynam, who first covered Princeton men's basketball as a reporter for what was then Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia, back during its magical 1997-98 season. Comcast SportsNet, by the way, recently changed to NBC Sports Philadelphia.

From there, Dei covered a lot of Sixers games, as a sideline reporter and studio host, often with her father, a former coach of, among others, St. Joe's and the Sixers. She also did a lot of national sideline reporting on the NBA for TNT and others. 

Fast-forwarding nearly 20 years, Dei did the color commentary for the Princeton-Rider game on CSN. Now, having moved on from the network, she is doing a bunch of different things, including the color commentary for Princeton women's basketball on the Ivy League Network.

Dei does those games with Jon Mozes on play-by-play and Danielle McCartan as the sideline reporter. That's as good a team as you will find anywhere in women's college basketball, by the way.

Dei was at the doubleheader at the Palestra when Roger Gordon, Princeton Class of 1973, came over to say hello to TB. As Roger, one of the most loyal supporters of Princeton basketball that there has ever been, came by, TB assumed - correctly - that he and Dei would know about a thousand of the same people, especially through her dad.

Actually, it might have been more than 1,000.

Anyway, Roger had two extra tickets to the Princeton-Columbia women's game that was coming up the following weekend, and he gave them to TB to give away. Dei said that she had a friend whose daughter would love to come to the game, and so he gave them to her.

This past Friday, there was Dei, on the the ILN broadcast. And her friend and his daughter, Jewel, who looks to be about 10, who were in the stands watching.

After the game, Dei introduced them to TB, and they both couldn't say enough about how great the game had been, how much they'd enjoyed it. TB asked Jewel who her favorite player was, and she said quietly "my favorite was No. 2."

For Princeton's women's team, No. 2 is Carlie Littlefield. She's a freshman, and she's really, really easy to like.

TB walked over to where Littlefield was sitting with some of her friends and asked her if she'd come say hi to the girl. Of course she did, talking to her for a few minutes and posing with her for a picture.

The girl was overwhelmed. It wouldn't have been much different had she met LeBron James.

The point of the story is that the dynamic of the Princeton athletes as they interact with the kids who come to see them play is extraordinary. They are such great role models, and they are so giving of their time, regardless of the situation in the game that just ended.

TigerBlog has seen it so many times, across all sports here. The athletes love to meet with the kids. The kids beam as they do, just like Jewel did after meeting Carlie Littlefield.

As for the game that had just ended, it was all Princeton. The next night, Saturday, wasn't quite all Princeton, since Cornell's astonishing 8 for 9 shooting from the field made it a two-point game at the break, only to have Princeton come out in the second half with a 17-0 run.

Through three league games, all wins, Princeton's Ivy opponents are shooting 33.8 percent from the field, and that includes Cornell's 8 for 9 run. Take that away, and that number drops to 30.4 percent.

That is extraordinary.

Littlefield's impact on Princeton has been dramatic. She's like the basketball equivalent of one of those five-hour energy drinks, and her motor is contagious.

It helps that she's playing on a team with great balance and chemistry, as well as one with great upperclass leadership. And that Princeton enters pretty much every game with the best player - Bella Alarie, who won her second straight Ivy Player of the Week award, not to mention her third in four weeks.

Princeton got to the exam break at 13-3 overall, to go along with 3-0 in the league. Unlike the men, there is no Division III game out of the break, so the Tigers won't play again until they go to Yale and Brown Feb. 2 and 3.

They're back in Jadwin the next weekend, taking on Harvard and Dartmouth. They're worth seeing.

They're great athletes on the court and great people off it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Remembering That Play By Marty Cheatham

Want to know what TigerBlog was thinking about as he watched the final seconds of the Vikings-Saints game the other day?

Well, a few things. Included in that list was the fact that the ends of football movies or TV shows where the team gets the 60- or 70- or 80-yard touchdowns on the final play are so absurd and it never, ever, ever happens in real life.

Every time he sees a fictional football ending with that spectacular big play, TB always thinks the same thing. No way. Never happens.

And then there was the game Sunday.

The last few minutes of that game were pretty dramatic. First the Saints came back from being down 17-0 to take a 21-20 lead, 3:01 to go. Then the Vikings came back with a 53-yard field goal, 23-21 Vikings, 1:49 to go. Then it was the Saints, with a drive that included a perfect pass from Drew Brees on a fourth-and-10 and then a 43-yard field goal, 24-23 Saints, 25 seconds to go.

At this point, TB figured the game was done. The Saints had it in the bag. Yes, the Vikings only needed a field goal to win. No, it didn't figure that they had any chance to get close enough.

Nothing changed on the first three plays of the drive to make TB think any different. Minnesota had 10 seconds left. The Vikings were on their own 39. They needed to get 25 yards or so to get in field goal range, but then if any of this happened in the field of play, time would run out on them, since they were out of timeouts.

By now you know what happened next.

Case Keenum threw a deep out to Stefon Diggs. Marcus Williams completely whiffed on the tackle, or the attempt at the tackle, or whatever that was. Worse, he took out his teammate when he landed.

This is what tackling has become, by the way. Lower a shoulder and try to hit the offensive player hard enough to knock him down. It's no longer about wrapping him up and taking him to the ground. And if you want to say that Williams was just hoping to avoid a pass interference call, TB isn't buying that. 

Anyway, once he had the ball, there was nothing but open space in front of Diggs, who sprinted into the end zone, probably as shocked as anyone as to where he ended up.

It was as shocking an end of a football game as TigerBlog has ever seen. It's up there with the pass that Doug Flutie threw to Gerard Phelan as Boston College beat Miami back in 1983. Actually it exceeds that, since teams win games on a "Hail Mary" every now and then.

But a 61-yard TD pass on a play that was only hoping to get a receiver down the field enough to set up a field goal but also out of of bounds to stop the clock that ended up as a fairly uncontested TD? When have you seen that before? TB can't think of one.

He does remember a Princeton-Yale football game where there was something similar.

Princeton trailed Yale 14-13 late in the 2000 game at the Yale Bowl and was 68 yards from the goal line in the final minute, also out of timeouts. Jon Blevins, one of four Princeton quarterbacks to start a game that year, threw a pass to Marty Cheatham hoping to get the ball down the field and then out of bounds.

Cheatham made a move to the sideline and then was cut off by two Yale players, who didn't want him to get out of bounds. When he realized they had the sideline blocked - they would later say they thought he was out of bounds - he turned and sprinted toward the end zone, getting 32 yards downfield before being knocked out.

Blevins then threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Chisom Opara on the next play. Final score - Princeton 19, Yale 14.

Anyway, another thing about the NFL playoffs is that there has been a huge Princeton connection on the broadcasting side of things.

Tom McCarthy, who was Princeton's football and basketball play-by-play man in the 1990s, was on the Jaguars-Steelers game on Westwood One national radio. His color commentator was Ross Tucker, the former Princeton offensive lineman who had a long NFL career.

John Sadak, who did Princeton basketball after Tom, was on the Eagles-Falcons game on Westwood One. Tucker was the sideline reporter for that game.

TB saw a tweet yesterday that said that Tucker should be Jon Gruden's replacement on Monday Night Football. That's not a bad idea at all.

This weekend are the conference finals. Everyone is rooting against New England, TB assumes.

Oh, and the local New Orleans newspaper, the Times-Picayune? Its headline yesterday was one word, in giant letters, listed three times.

Go look it up. It'll make you laugh.

You do that, and TB will remind the rest of the staff here at the Office of Athletic Communications never to do that on goprincetontigers.com.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Rich And Bones

TigerBlog's introduction to doing radio for Princeton Athletics came back in 1989.

The station then was WHWH, a small station in town, located at 1350 AM. TB was covering the men's basketball team as a sportswriter, and at some point, he connected with the play-by-play man back then, David Brody, who invited TigerBlog to join him to do games on the road.

There was already someone else who was the color commentator for home games, but he didn't travel with the team. At some point, TigerBlog also started doing the home games, creating a rare three-man radio team for basketball.

For the first time in somewhere around 25 years, two-thirds of that team was reunited on the radio for Princeton basketball. It was Friday night, Princeton-Columbia, and TigerBlog saw Rich Simkus in the stands.

When TB does games, one of the first things he does is try to find a halftime guest. He's never failed to find someone, and very, very few people have ever turned him down.

TB loves to do the halftime interviews. It's an opportunity to bring in people from many different parts of the Princeton Athletic world - former basketball players, athletes from other teams, prominent alums, media members, pretty much anyone.

The key to a good interview is not to go by a script. Instead, just have a conversation and let it flow naturally. TB thinks he's a decent interviewer, and he certainly has enough experience doing it.

This weekend, TigerBlog had two great guests.

The first was Simkus, the third (technically second) member of that three-man team all that time ago. They would sit up in the south stands, where the press section used to be, and talk about the games. The three-man booth worked because the offense could have the ball for 45 seconds back then, so there was a lot of time for everyone to talk.

Simkus, who stands around 6-9, was a center on two Ivy League championship teams before graduating in 1983. His senior year Princeton won two NCAA tournament games - against North Carolina A&T and Oklahoma State - before losing to Boston College.

He's a local guy now, and he's stayed very close to Princeton Athletics through the years. And there he was Friday, back on the radio with TB at halftime.

TB's questions were about how Princeton basketball has changed since Simkus played, especially how the center position has changed. Simkus' answers were very thoughtful and analytical.

He talked about the rule changes, about the huge difference of playing with no shot clock as opposed to a 45-second shot clock. He talked about the skills that it took to be a center at Princeton in the early 1980s and which ones are still evident in today's much-faster offense. He also talked about how close he's stayed with the guys on his own team and how he's interacted with the current players.

He was really good. So was Saturday's guest, Sean Gregory, a basketball player in the Class of 1998. Sean was part of three Ivy League championship teams, including ones his sophomore year and senior year that won NCAA tournament games.

Sean, whose nickname is "Bones," talked about some of the same things about what Simkus did, specifically how his team from 1998, which went 27-2 and ended the year ranked in the top 10, would have matched up against the current team. It's a question TB has asked others.

Sean is also a writer for "Time" magazine, a career path that TB helped encourage, dating to when Sean wrote a diary of the team's trip to Spain in the summer of 1997. TB asked him about covering sports at the magazine, especially about Sean's experiences covering the Olympic Games, something that will soon take him to South Korea.

TB also asked him about Usain Bolt, about whom Sean had nothing but good things to say. Come to think of it, TB only has nothing but good things to say about Sean Gregory as well. They don't get much better than Bones.

The weekend, of course, was about more than just the halftime interviews. There were four games at Jadwin, two women's games and two men's games, and Princeton went 4-0, sweeping Columbia Friday and Cornell Saturday.

In fact, short of some incredible second-quarter shooting by the Cornell women (an 8 for 9 10-minute span that made it 36-34 Princeton at the half), the games were pretty much over from the start. In all, Princeton won the four games by a combined 96 points.

The games were the final ones before first semester exams, which begin today. The women enter the break at 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the Ivy League. The men are 2-1 in the Ivy League.

It's impossible to build any momentum out of the weekend before exams. It's just about winning, that's all.

As for the men, it's hard to tell what was better, the offense or defense. Princeton got out to an 8-0 lead against Columbia and a 19-0 lead against Cornell, and the two games combined saw Princeton shoot 25 for 58 from three.

On the other end, Princeton held Columbia and Cornell to a combined 41 for 122 weekend, including 13 for 50 from three. That's 33.6 percent from the field and 26 percent from three.

If you want to add the women in, then the four opponents were a combined 74-218 from the field, and 21 for 79 from three. That's 33.9 percent overall and 26.6 percent from three.

Those are winning numbers.

And it was a winning weekend. During the game, and at halftime.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Food For Thought

The business day yesterday started with an impressive breakfast spread, courtesy of Princeton Athletics' friends at the Hyatt Regency.

The occasion was the monthly staff meeting, which goes on the road every now and then. And the Hyatt was extremely welcoming, with eggs, French toast, fruit, muffins, croissants and lots of bacon.

One staff member who was not at the meeting was Gail Ramsay, the women's squash coach. Gail was back in Jadwin, getting ready for the match between her third-ranked Tigers and second-ranked Trinity. That match was starting at 1 yesterday.

To help out with attendance, Gail sent along a message that there'd be lunch available. And so there it was, on a table outside the Zanfrini Room - sandwiches, ships, cookies.

Not every day is like that, of course. Usually, there are no free meals provided at work. Yesterday? Breakfast and lunch, courtesy of the Tigers.

The food probably helped draw some of the fans in attendance. So did the fact that it was a big event in mid-day.

TigerBlog suggested to some of his coworkers that there should be a 1 p.m. event every work day. Why not? This one went really well.

Princeton, as TB said, was ranked third. The Tigers already owned a win over the No. 4 team in the country - Stanford. By the way, if you're looking for a sport that is spreading nationally, try squash.

Anyway, Princeton went into the match against No. 2 Trinity knowing that it was the start of a five-match stretch that would see the Tigers play the No. 1 (Harvard), No. 2 (Trinity), No. 5 (Penn) and No. 6 (Yale, this Sunday by the way, after a match tomorrow against Brown) teams in the country.

Wins are never easy to come by when you run a gauntlet like that. It seemed like Princeton wasn't going to come away with one yesterday either when it fell behind 4-1.

One of the great things about squash - and toughest things about squash - is that you can't run out the clock. You have to get every point in the game, you have to get every game in the match and you have to get five matches as a team.

It would be Princeton who would get to five yesterday. The Tigers rallied, winning out, and came away with a huge victory over the Bantams.  

TigerBlog and Gail Ramsay are old buddies. Gail, and the late men's coach Bob Callahan (it still hurts TB to have write "late" before Bob Callahan) got TB involved playing the game here years and years ago, and TB and Gail were next-door neighbors for awhile. Gail is one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet in your life, not to mention one of the best cooks.

She also is one of the greatest squash players and greatest squash coaches of all time as well. And, with her team at 7-0, she's clearly not lost the edge in the least.

Speaking of old friends, this weekend brings back two others to town. Meg Griffith and Brian Earl will be back in Jadwin Gym.

Meg is the head coach of the Columbia women's basketball team. Brian is the head coach of the men's team at Cornell.

Princeton hosts both teams this weekend in a pair of doubleheaders. It all starts tonight at 5:30, when Meg's Lions will take on the Princeton women, followed at 8 by the men's game. Tomorrow night it's Cornell's women at 4:30 and Cornell's men at 7.

There have only been two Ivy League games played on the men's and women's sides to date, with wins by Princeton and Dartmouth on the women's side and Harvard and Penn on the men's side. Because of Princeton's academic calendar, the Tigers will be out of action for the next two weekends.

Columbia and Cornell will play each other next weekend and the weekend after. Yale and Brown will play each other this weekend and next weekend. Harvard and Dartmouth play again next weekend and then play the first Yale/Brown weekend after that, so there are a lot of games to be played before Princeton will come back to the court.

Meg and Brian were both very popular here as assistant coaches. Brian, of course, is one of the greatest players in Princeton basketball history, with a resume that includes three NCAA tournaments, the school record for career three-pointers and an Ivy League Player of the Year award.

There's no time for sentiment though.

This weekend is always an interesting one. You can't build any momentum coming out of it, no matter what, since you don't play for so long. That makes these games their own little mini-season, and it's an important one at that.

It's going to be a busy two days here at Jadwin.

And then a quiet few weeks.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Seven Plus Five Equals Eleven

Here's one last thing about the Alabama-Georgia game the other night.

TigerBlog went to both school's athletic websites the day after the game. The lead story on Alabama's page was obviously about the national championship. In fact, there was a football celebration splash page before you ever got to the main page.

Georgia? Its lead story was about the SEC gymnastics player of the week. After that were men's and women's basketball preview stories. The football game was already fourth.

Alabama, of course, defeated Georgia on the field. Georgia, though, seems to have an edge on Alabama in one are - number of people listed as employees on the staff directory for football. Georgia has 39 people listed. Alabama lists 34.

Where do they find the office space?

Speaking of office space, it's been more than two years since the Office of Athletic Communications relocated down to E level, next to the wrestling room, down the hall from the Princeton Varsity Club weightroom.

As TB has said, almost nobody comes by just to visit. Even fewer will now that Luis Nicolao is no longer the water polo coach. If anyone was a regular, it was Luis.

Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan announced yesterday that Derek Ellingson would be the interim head coach of the men's team and Becca Dorst will be the interim head coach of the women's team. A search for Luis' successor will be held in the spring.

The women's water polo team opens the season in Arizona the first weekend of February. Between now and then, there's a busy weekend and then the annual January shut down of athletics due to first semester exams.

In fact, there will be no Princeton sporting events between this Sunday, which is the 14th, and Saturday the 27th.

If you want to take advantage of the window you have to see the Tigers play right now, well, you're in luck. By TigerBlog's count, there are 11 teams playing this weekend - men's and women's squash, basketball, hockey and track and field, wrestling, men's volleyball and women's swimming and diving.

Of those 11 teams, there are seven who will play at home and five who will be on the road. Wait, doesn't that add up to 12?

Yes. And that's because one of those teams will be doing something extraordinary, something that can't possibly happen too often in college athletics.

The wrestling team will travel the eight miles down Route 206 to take on Rider at 1. Four hours later, the Tigers will be in Dillon Gym, wrestling against Franklin & Marshall. That's right. One away match. One home match. One day.

The others on the road will be the men's hockey team (at Harvard, at Dartmouth), the women's swimming and diving team (at Villanova) and the two track teams (the meet is on Staten Island).

For home events, it actually starts today with the women's squash match against Trinity. That starts at 1, by the way. This weekend, the men's and women's squash teams will be home against Brown (Saturday) and Yale (Sunday).

If you haven't seen men's freshman Youssef Ibrahim, then you're missing out. Ibrahim is from Cairo. Perhaps you remember another Princeton men's squash player from Cairo? His name was Yasser El Halaby, and he was a four-time national individual champion.

Who else is home this weekend?

The men's volleyball team, as TB mentioned yesterday, hosts Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne tomorrow night at 7 in Dillon Gym.

The women's hockey team is home tomorrow at 6 against Brown and 3 tomorrow against Yale. Princeton started the season at 3-8-2 but now has gone 3-2-1 in its last six, including a win over No. 5 Cornell last weekend.

Princeton enters the weekend seventh in the ECAC. Yale is in 10th; Brown is in 12th.

Lastly, there is basketball. As an aside, basketball is the only sport this weekend on campus that requires a paid ticket. The rest are free.

There are two doubleheaders in Jadwin Gym this weekend.

Princeton will host Columbia tomorrow, with the women's game at 5:30 and the men's game at 8. Then, Saturday, it's Cornell for two, the women at 4:30 and the men at 7.

And then, when all that is over, exams will begin.

So, as TB said, take advantage of the next few days. Eleven teams. Seven home. Five away.

That adds up to a very busy weekend.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Little Moxie

If you couldn't tell, TigerBlog wrote yesterday's entry before the national championship game between Alabama and Georgia and then just stuck in who won.

That's because he knew the game wouldn't end until midnight and he wanted to be prepared. He usually writes the day before, unless there's something extraordinary, like a big night game or, as was the case in the men's basketball win over USC, an unexpectedly big night game.

TB actually started writing at 2 am Eastern time after that game.

As for the football game, Alabama won 26-23 in overtime. TigerBlog didn't watch a single play after halftime, when he fell asleep. He did learn later on that Alabama coach Nick Saban had benched his started quarterback, Jalen Hurts, at halftime, with the Tide down 13-0.

Instead, freshman Tua Tagovailoa came in and led Alabama back for the victory, which came on a 41-yard TD pass in the OT, by the way. Hurts, by all accounts, handled the situation way, way better than basically any NFL player would have, especially considering he'd started 28 straight games before that and Alabama had won 26 of those.

As for Saban, you can hate him all you want. TigerBlog doesn't like him. For one thing, he comes across as less than the happiest guy in his public persona.

For another, he wasn't very nice to Nate Ewell when Nate, the former Princeton OAC student worker/lacrosse manager, worked with him at Michigan State. TB holds grudges.

For all that, though, you have to give him credit for making that move. Coaches, especially football coaches, are notorious for not in any way wanting to be blamed if things go wrong. Had 13-0 become 27-0, Saban would have been blasted for not sticking with Hurts.

Put another way, an Alabama loss in which Hurts plays the whole way and nobody is questioning Saban. An Alabama loss in which he makes that change and everyone is blaming him, which isn't good for the ego.

Instead, he made the move he thought would give his team the best possible chance to win. It took some moxie to do so.

TB still wanted Georgia to win. He roots for Georgia, since it was MotherBlog's last home state. She actually lived in Atlanta, in the Buckhead section, so she was much closer to where the game was played than she was to the Georgia campus, but still, TB roots for the Bulldogs.

Of course, Saban notwithstanding, it seems like the refs were in on it, from what TB read after the game.

Another game - match? - that ended too late for TB this week was played at Stanford last Friday night (started at 11 Eastern). This one was in men's volleyball, between Princeton and Stanford.

Men's volleyball season started Jan. 2 for Princeton, and it will run until late April for the league playoffs and if Princeton should reach the NCAA tournament. Does that make it a winter sport or a spring sport?

Either way, it's a team that didn't exactly start off with a soft schedule. In fact, Princeton went to California last week for four matches, all against teams in the top 12.

That takes a little moxie too, no? 

It started on the same exact Galen Center floor where the men's basketball team beat USC in December. This time, it was No. 12 USC who won, but it was in four very competitive sets.

Next up was No. 2 Long Beach State. Then it would be No. 8 Stanford and No. 11 Cal-State Northridge.

Princeton came back from that trip 1-3. There are some 1-3 starts that are much more impressive than others.

Princeton's win came against Stanford. It was certainly dramatic, as the Tigers went up 1-0 and 2-1 and then won the fifth set at 16-14.

The win was Princeton's best - in terms of rankings - ever in its 21 years as a varsity program. 

Of Princeton's first eight matches, seven of them are in California. The Tigers will make a return trip after exams for three more matches, against UC-San Diego, UCLA and Pepperdine. By the way, if you'e never been to Pepperdine, you should check it out some day.

The lone non-Californian match during that time is this Friday, when Princeton hosts IPFW (that's Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. That match will start at 7.

Sam Shweisky is the head coach of the men's volleyball team. Were he not coaching volleyball here, he'd probably be a professor or dean or something like that. He's a thoughtful guy, and usually a quiet and upbeat guy, and he is very invested in building a strong team character and dynamic.

 Ah, but don't let that lull you. He's also an intense competitor.

And one that wants to challenge his team. His early-season schedule shows you that.

The results to date show you that this could be an exciting few months for Princeton men's volleyball.