Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dr. Pete Carril

Pete Carril was once asked about a Princeton basketball player with a 3.8 grade point average who had just won a big academic honor.

"What do I think?," Carril said. "I think he'd be better off with a 3.6 and more time spent working on his jump shot."

He was kidding, of course. Pete Carril has always held education - and educators - in the highest esteem.

TigerBlog hardly remembers the number of times he's heard Carril talk about how high school teachers and coaches - of which he was one for 12 years - can have the most positive or most negative impact on the overall development of their students, that there is no substitute for having the good fortune to have great teachers.

Carril himself is a graduate of Lafayette College, Class of 1952. TigerBlog knows that off the top of his head.

He knows all kinds of things about Carril. He went to Liberty High School in Bethlehem, where his own coach was a man named Joseph Preletz, nicknamed "Pickles."

TB doesn't need to look up that Carril went 514-261 at Princeton, winning 13 Ivy titles, playing in 11 NCAA tournaments and winning the 1975 NIT. He knows all about Carril's big games, his favorite players, his philosophies, the funniest things he's ever heard him say.

When TB saw that Carril was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities at Commencement yesterday, it dawned on him that of all the conversations that he's had with the Hall-of-Fame coach, he never really talked to him about his record as a student.

For that matter, TB doesn't even know what his major was at Lafayette.

Still, TB does know how important education has always been to Carril - and that it's not a coincidence that he stayed at Princeton for 29 years.

Carril's father worked in the steel mill in Bethlehem, and basketball and education were Carril's road to a different career path.

He spent 29 years at a University surrounded by people almost all of whom grew up with much more than he knew as a child, and yet none of that mattered on his teams. To Carril, what mattered most was who would work the hardest, who would buy into the team concept the most, who would perform at the highest level.

TB once wrote that Carril was the University's conscience, and it's a pretty accurate statement. A player's worth, he would constantly remind them, is determined by their character.

There were six honorary degrees conferred yesterday, and another Hall-of-Fame, singer Aretha Franklin, was one of the other five recipients.

Carril was the boys' basketball coach and a teacher at Reading High when Franklin released her first record, and he was just getting to Princeton when "Respect" became her first No. 1 hit.

TB has heard Carril tell the story a million times about how he moved from the ranks of a high school teacher to a college coach, back when Lehigh was hiring before the 1965-66 season. Only three people applied, and Carril earned the job - at least he says - sort of because nobody else really wanted it.

Whether that's true or not isn't the issue. What is reality is that it wouldn't be easy to go from being a high school coach to a college head coach, and it's possible that Carril's entire career might have been spent as a high school teacher and coach.

As it turned out, he got the right breaks at the right times and made the most of them.

And there he was yesterday, dressed in cap and gown, grinning from ear-to-ear, tearing up when he received his honor.

There aren't too many people who have ever deserved it more.

TB hasn't heard too many better public speakers in his life than Pete Carril, and it's not only because he can be funny without overdoing it.

It's because he speaks from the heart, and because what he says has such resonance. He's always been as much a philosopher as anything else, at least in TB's eyes.

And now he's a Princeton Ph.D. He certainly looked the part in his cap and gown, looking professorial, relaxed, happy.

Clearly he was touched by the moment.

TB has never met anyone else quite like Carril. He's as fascinating as anyone TB has ever met.

Coach. Teacher. Philosopher.


No comments: