Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mr. Compton Goes To Philadelphia

TigerBlog walked down the ramp to the Palestra floor about 45 minutes before the opening tip for last night's Princeton-Penn men's basketball game.

As he reached the bottom and started towards the far side, he made eye contact with a man wearing a blue baseball hat with a red Penn "P" on it. He nodded, and Brent Compton nodded back.

Who is Brent Compton?

Well, he's an Indiana State basketball season ticket holder with a sporting goods business right there on South 3rd Street in Terre Haute. And why was he in the Palestra, wearing a Penn hat no less?

Each year, Compton and the two buddies who were with him pick out a college basketball venue that they've never visited and plan a trip. This year's choice was the Palestra, for their first-ever Ivy League basketball game.

Compton saw TB's Princeton Athletics shirt and asked him what he did at Princeton. After TB explained, Compton started in with a barrage of questions.

How does financial aid work? Are there really no scholarships? Do the teams get to give out 50% aid to a certain number of kids, 25% to others? Do the better kids get more in aid? Is it really need based?

And admissions. And the competitive level of Ivy basketball.

Mostly, he talked about the Palestra, which was just starting to come to life for the night. Even before play began, Compton liked the building, the feel, the way that it gets loud even before it gets crowded.

Then it was TB's turn to ask the questions.

Did these guys have any connection to Penn or the Ivy League? The answer was no.

Where were they staying? What did they think so far?

How was Indiana State doing? The answer was that the Sycamores started well, hit a rough patch and now need to do well in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to have a chance at the postseason.

And, of course, where did they get the Penn hats?

Turns out they went to the Penn shootaround earlier in the day and met the Quaker coaches, who gave them the hats.

Then it was off to the radio and the promise to catch up at the end of the game, to see what they thought of their first Ivy game.

About two hours later, TB reconnected with Compton.

In between, TB came up with these thoughts of his own:

* Princeton was really, really hurt by the exam layoff, more so than in any other year that TB can remember. Why? In most years, exams would end on Saturday, and the Division III game would be Monday night, followed by a return to league play on the following Friday/Saturday. This time, Princeton had to play a league game two days after exams ended, and not just any league game, the one at Penn. Remember, it's not just not having played a game for 16 days; it's also not having practiced with a full team for all of that time.

* TB thought Penn would be hurt by not having played in nine days, and he thought the first five to seven minutes or so would be sloppy and low-scoring. Instead, Penn came out completely on fire, and the game was really decided in those first few minutes.

* TB said on the radio that that wouldn't happen, and he was 100% wrong about that. Of course, he pointed that out several times, in the interest of accountability and all.

* Brendan Connolly had a big game for Princeton. Ian Hummer, who was the focal point of Penn's defensive game plan, didn't force the issue in the first half and instead let the offense go through him to others, most notably Connolly. In the second half, Hummer was completely dominant and unstoppable. The more TB sees Hummer play, the more impressed he is with him. He is skilled in every phase of the game, and he has a level of explosiveness and fury that take him to another level.

* Maybe Princeton got to see Zack Rosen at his absolute best or maybe that's how he plays all the time. Either way, Penn's point guard put on an amazing show, beyond just his 28 points. He was in total control of every major point of the game, and he did so with total poise. Anytime Penn needed a play - start to finish - Rosen made it.

* TB loves what Penn did with the concourses of the Palestra about 10 years or so ago, with their retrospectives on the history of the building. Every time TB is there, he takes a lap around and sees all the displays, especially the one on the Princeton-Penn rivalry.

* As a Penn alum, TB was embarrassed for his alma mater by the behavior of its students. From the t-shirts that they wore to the roll-outs to the chants, the students showed no class - and maybe worse, no creativity. Maybe TB is among a small minority who thinks that there's still a chance in contemporary American society for some civility, but it was woefully lacking in the Penn student section last night. The word TB used on the radio was "disgrace," and he stands by that.

* At the same time, TB had nothing but praise for the Penn coaches and players, who played the game hard and clean, were classy on the court and off it, and clearly deserved to win the game. The same was true for Princeton's coaches and players.

* No matter what happens, TigerBlog will never walk into the Palestra again and not think back to the night in February 1999 when Princeton fell behind 29-3, 33-9 at halftime, 40-13 with 15 minutes left - and won 50-49. In the postgame radio interview, TB asked Brian Earl - who along with Gabe Lewullis and Mason Rocca - was one of the architects of that amazing comeback what he remembered most. Earl, Princeton's top assistant coach, said that he mostly thinks back to the timeout when Princeton had finally taken the lead and how he looked around at all of the stunned faces in the crowd.

Anyway, with all of those assessments, it was back to talking to Brett, to see what he thought.

As TB could have predicted, he enjoyed the game and the building and was impressed with the competitive nature of the night. His view of Ivy League basketball - and of the Princeton-Penn rivalry - was high.

Then he and his friends shot a few baskets and took a few pictures.

When it was time to leave, TB asked what they were doing and then made a suggestion.

"Get in a cab," TB said. "And tell him to take you to Geno's."


Anonymous said...

Nice work last night. You and Noah both do a good job but in very different ways -- complementary color commentary over the course of the season.

Two questions: (1) Every year, the Division III game is scheduled to ease the team back into their routine after exams. This season, it was scheduled before the break, rendering it essentially useless. What happened this time around? Who arranged the schedule? It's not like the exam calendar changed at the last minute.

(2) From the recap, it sounds like TB recognized Brett Compton before speaking to him. How did that happen? It's not like he's a celebrity -- or is he one in the OAC world?

TigerBlog said...

TigerBlog had never met Brett before last night. As for the schedule, much of it was predicated on the fact that Princeton's exams were a week later in January than usual, and it made scheduling even more difficult.

George Clark said...

Tough year for Mitch Henderson to take the helm. The schedule is a nightmare, something a first year coach should not have to endure. Two months on the road and the Palestra after 16 days off. Can't agree with TB on the civility issue. The fans, particularly the students, are SUPPOSED to create a hostile environment for the visitors. Hummer getting a T, on a play when he was fouled (and it was called), was like throwing red meat to the Penn crowd. Oh my, what can we do? Circle the date: March 6. Perhaps we can create a little hostility for our guests from Philadelphia.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful piece, Jerry. Brings back many memories from decades ago.

Having moved from PA to SC leaves me with no chance of seeing the JHU-PU lax game this year.

Lax Fidelis