Monday, January 2, 2017

Ping Ponging With Mitch Henderson

TigerBlog would have felt a little sorry for Mariah Carey on New Year's Eve, except for the fact that he'd recently read a story that said that Carey has a staff of four paid employees whose job it is to, wait, TB has to stop laughing before he can finish writing this.


Whose job is to do what? To put her shoes on for her.

Yeah, someone like that deserves to be humiliated on national TV. And elsewhere. It seemed like within five minutes, there were, oh, about 309,387,252 tweets making fun of Carey and her performance.

Also, TB wrote this a year ago, and he'll quote himself here, because he stands by every word:
Back when TigerBlog was a kid, that time slot was filled with "New Year's Eve with Guy Lombardo." Then Dick Clark took over in 1974, and he pretty much owned New Year's Eve.

Now that Clark has passed away, his name is still on the show, and that's a shame, because it's completely unwatchable, even if it is sort of a reflex to watch it for the final 30 minutes of a given calendar year. Some of the musical acts are okay, but the hosts aren't, especially Jenny McCarthy. The words don't exist to explain how bad she is.

If you're looking for some people who were happy right at midnight, you didn't need to go to Times Square. The bus back from the airport after Princeton's women's basketball team returned from playing Georgia Tech and Lipscomb became its own New Year's Eve party.

You can see for yourself. 

TigerBlog toyed with making a New Year's resolution to use first person for this year. Maybe he will. He has to think about it. Maybe he'll check with a focus group.

Is it time for first person? After all these years of third person?

Beyond any resolutions, TigerBlog would like to wish everyone a great new year. Hopefully 2017 will be the best year you've ever had.

There were still 11 hours left in the year 2016 when Princeton hosted Cal Poly in men's basketball. It was the last game for the Tigers before the New Year, obviously, and also more importantly the last game before the start of the Ivy League season. There will be a doubleheader Saturday on Carril Court, as the women take on Penn at 4 and the men take on Penn at 7.

The women's game was originally scheduled for 2, by the way, so that's a change. Remember, the women's game is at 4.

As for the Cal Poly game, there's only one thing TigerBlog can say about it. Princeton won by a lot.

Besides, he'd actually like to talk about what happened 24 hours before that game, in the essentially empty Jadwin lobby.

That's where TigerBlog took on men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson in their first round match of the Jadwin Gym ping-pong tournament. TigerBlog wasn't sure how he drew Henderson, so he asked Aaron Ostroff, the assistant director of operations at Jadwin, how the tournament draw was done. He said there were 16 people who wanted to play, so he matched up the first person to respond with the last person, the second with the second-to-last, etc.

TigerBlog can accept that, even if left him paired against one of the most athletic and most competitive people he has ever met. The match was typical of such a tournament in that both TigerBlog and Henderson really wanted to win but didn't really want to look like they really wanted to win.

TigerBlog has played squash with Mitch before, and so TB knew that his opponent had good basic racquet skills. He also knew that Mitch could cover a squash court in one stride in either direction, because he is 1) quick and 2) taller than you think.

As it turned out, that combination would be problematic for TigerBlog.

The game plan, for TB at least, was to keep the ball in play and move Mitch around from side to side. He figured the coach's aggressive nature would cause him to get impatient and go for winners that he would miss.

It worked well in Game 1, which TigerBlog won 21-13. The match, though, was best-of-three, and Mitch got stronger as they went along. Plus, the moving him side-to-side strategy didn't really work at all, since there was no side-to-side for Mitch. There was just a step and a reach of the arm and the entire court area was covered.

In the end, Mitch would rally and win the last two games, both of which were competitive - except for the points when head football coach Bab Surace walked by, none of which TB won. TigerBlog actually thought he played pretty well. He tried to adjust to the fact that his strategy was falling apart by being a little more aggressive himself, and he hit some good shots. Mitch was just a little better. It happens.

With the win, Mitch advances to the quarterfinals. TigerBlog is out. But that's okay. TB wanted to win, but the match was more than just about who won. It was fun to play, and that's what TB told Henderson when they were done.

TigerBlog and Henderson go way back, really to the first days that Henderson walked onto the Princeton campus as a basketball player back in 1994. TB wasn't at the first game of Henderson's freshman year and then again wasn't at the seventh game of that season but then was at every single game for the rest of Henderson's career.

Those were great days for Princeton basketball. The Tigers went to the NCAA tournament each of Henderson's final three years, defeating UCLA in 1996 and UNLV in 1998. The 1997-98 Tigers went 27-2 and were ranked in the national top 10, and Henderson was as big a reason as anyone on those teams for that run of success.

A point guard who is still one of the two best passers TB has seen at Princeton (Nate Walton is the other), Henderson could throw ridiculous feeds with either hand, at full speed, without looking, before anyone was open.

TB still remembers the day when Bill Carmody called him up to his office to show him video of a pass Henderson had thrown a few days earlier in the game at Brown. This was a pass with four Brown players frozen, staring at Henderson, and it was thrown - TB believes to Gabe Lewullis - for an uncontested layup, before Lewullis was one step into his cut from outside the paint.

During his time as a player, Henderson smiled easily and spoke softly. He was a media favorite, back when there was a lot of media who covered the team. 

TB and Henderson stayed in touch during his time as an assistant to Carmody at Northwestern. TB was thrilled when Henderson became the head coach when Sydney Johnson left for Fairfield.

As an aside, the 1997 Princeton team started three players - Johnson, Henderson and Brian Earl (Cornell) - who are now head coaches. The Princeton coaching staff that year included Carmody, Joe Scott, John Thompson and Howard Levy, all of whom would become head coaches and the first three of whom have coached in the NCAA tournament. 

These days, Henderson still smiles and speaks softly. He is a much more intense presence as a coach than he was as a player, and he is definitely passionate about his opinions and philosophies. Conversations with him are educational to say the least. He is clearly a coach, but he is a coach with a bit of a professor in him as well.

It's still hard for TB to believe sometimes that Henderson is in his 40s and that his playing days at Princeton began more than 20 years ago.

The ping pong match was a chance to spend a little time away from the grind of a basketball season for two people who have known each other for a long time. It was, for TigerBlog, a reminder of all the things he likes about Henderson, how, much like Carmody, he can competitive, funny, engaging, focused and laid back and somehow do all those things at the same time.

Yeah. It was fun.

Of course, it would have been more fun to win.

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