Friday, December 19, 2014

The Family Reunion

If you walk into the business office in Jadwin Gym, you'll see a bunch of collages on the wall. If you close the door, you'll see a bunch of holiday cards through the years.

Both of them were originally the work of Phyllis Chase, who used to be the Princeton athletics team travel coordinator.

Phyllis used to take pictures at all of the holiday parties and then get prints made, from which she would deliver one to the person in the picture and then cut up another to turn into that year's collage. Back when Phyllis used to do this, getting two-for-one prints at a photo store was pretty standard.

Phyllis was there last night at the Shea Rowing Center, for the 2014 version of the holiday party. She was there without a camera. Phyllis, TigerBlog believes, finally went to a digital camera, though she still doesn't take pictures with her phone like the rest of the world.

Where was the camera, she was asked? Her response was that she had retired from picture taking duties.

That left the responsibility to Dee Vertucci, who works in the ticket office and at the Jadwin front desk. TigerBlog got into one picture, with men's lacrosse coach Chris Bates and his OAC colleague Craig Sachson.

The collages in the business office always grab TB's attention each time he walks in. Maybe it's because of how many people have come and gone in the years since each one was first put on the wall. Maybe it's because of the changes in appearance - some subtle, some dramatic - of those who are still here.

No two years will ever be exactly the same around here, as there is always turnover. For some, it's a first or second holiday party. For others, they've been going for decades.

As TigerBlog surveyed the scene at the boathouse last night, he had some pretty obvious thoughts. First, he couldn't believe another year had flown by and that it was time for yet another holiday party. He will have the same thought in another blink of an eye, when he's standing at the end-of-year awards banquet, which is now known as the Gary Walters ’67 PVC Awards Banquet.

Second, and more importantly, it doesn't have the feel as much as a work event as it does a family reunion of sorts.

Maybe that's because Princeton's athletic offices are spread throughout the campus, so there are many co-workers those who work, say, in Jadwin, don't see on an everyday basis. And there are also some who come from outside of athletics. And some who come back from their days in athletics.

TigerBlog also can't help but notice that there are several different generations represented at this family party.

All it takes is a quick glance around the room to see people in their 20s - and in their 70s and 80s. There are single people. The newly engaged, as in Jess Guerriero, who is now works in the busines office at the desk at which Phyllis used to sit. Married people. Grandparents.

There are lots of little kids, some of whom are still babies, others of whom are sprinting around the room as their parents either try to keep up or are forced to stop out of exhaustion.

TigerBlog wrote this last year, and it still applies, so he'll copy and paste for a few paragraphs:

As Santa Clauses go, you can't do much better than Princeton water polo coach Luis Nicolao.

In fact, TigerBlog thinks there's a chance that Nicolao is the actual real Santa.

There he was last night, at the Princeton Athletics Christmas party, ho-ho-ho-ing his way into the back of the room at the Shea Rowing Center with his bag of toys for the assembled children. Clearly he was a huge hit for the under-six crowd.

TigerBlog loves the whole little kid-Santa dynamic.

On the one hand, kids will ask all kinds of skeptical questions about the whole Santa experience, or they'll tell each other that the one at the mall - or at the Christmas party - isn't the "real" Santa.

Clearly it makes little sense when viewed with the lens of reality. One man, riding a sleigh driven by eight reindeer, flies all over the world in a 24-hour window, delivering presents to every single child on Earth who makes the "nice" list. Yeah, not too practical.

And yet children want to believe so strongly that they suspend any sense of reality in the name of Santa. Hey, starting in September really, parents of young children can get them to do almost anything they don't want to do simply by saying three words: "Santa is watching."

The fact that children are so willing to believe in a Santa is so refreshingly innocent that TB can't help but smile at the thought of it. And the sight of Nicolao in his best red-and-white outfit last night, surrounded by the kids? It was wonderful.

Hey, TB will be able to past that again next year, he's pretty sure.

One kid whose motivation to say on the "nice" list was really, really strong when he was younger is Keegan Shackford, who would stop doing something "naughty" on a dime with those three simple words that "Santa is watching." The party last night doubled as a going-away event for former women's soccer coach Julie Shackford, and Keegan was there with his mother to celebrate.

Keegan has been a regular at Princeton sporting events since he can remember. He is a 12-year-old ball of energy who inherited his mother's competitiveness and who has been a great soccer player from Day 1.

He was there last night with his buddy Nick Bates, son of Chris Bates. The two appeared to find a place somewhere in the boathouse to play football.

Keegs, as TB always called him, has an incredible, innate ability to look mischievous and charming at the same time. One flash of his smile is really all it takes, and all it has taken through the years, to charm basically every member of the Princeton Athletics family.

Before he left last night, TigerBlog made sure he connected with Keegs one more time, before Keegs and the rest of his family moves to Virginia next week to start the next chapter of their lives.

TigerBlog will surely miss him, and he will always remember all the laughs the two of them had through the years. And that's what TB told him last night. 

But that's how it works in families. Sometimes they move away. Sometimes new members come in.

The Princeton Athletics family continues to be a close-knit one, and it's why Princeton Athletics continues to be, year after year, such a great thing to be a part of and a great place to work. 

Last night was another really nice reminder of that.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

$8 Million For A Coach?

TigerBlog will now compare two football coaches.

Coach A has won 63% of his games the last two seasons and has not won a championship.

Coach B has won 65% of his games the last two seasons and has won a championship.

Both coaches were on the offensive side of the ball as players.

Coach A's team has averaged 319.2 yards per game and 21.9 points per game since the start of the 2013 season.

Coach B's team has averaged 458.2 yards per game and 24.1 points per game since the start of the 2013 season.

So if Coach A is worth more than $8 million per year, how much must Coach B be worth?

Coach A is San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who apparently has been offered a six-year, $49 million contract to leave his current position and become the head coach at his alma mater, the University of Michigan.

Coach B is Princeton coach Bob Surace. TigerBlog has no idea how much Surace makes, but his sense is it's a bit less than $8 million per year.

So if Harbaugh gets his big payday, shouldn't Surace? TB will mention this to Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux next time he sees her and see what she thinks.

Meanwhile, back at Harbaugh, TigerBlog supposes the University of Michigan can do whatever it wants with its money. And clearly, even for a really strong state school like Michigan, a winning football team is a huge plus in terms of everything else that goes on there.

After all, ask any person about Michigan, and what's the first response you get going to be? The Big House, Michigan's football stadium, which seats nearly 110,000 fans.

Of course, the Wolverines went 5-7 this year and averaged "only" 104,909 fans.

It didn't help that head coach Brady Hoke completely mishandled a concussion to his quarterback and sounded like something from the 1980s or so when he said something along the lines of "he's a tough kid; he wanted to be out there."

And it didn't help that Hoke was 0-3 against Ohio State.

Maybe, maybe Hoke could have survived two of those three things. But all three? No way.

And so the Wolverines need a new coach, and why not Harbaugh?

TigerBlog wonders if there is some metric that can measure whether or not paying a coach that much is worth it to a school. Does having such a high-profile coach trickle down directly to wins and losses, annual giving, ticket sales, increased student applications, a higher baseline of academic success from those students?

Certainly the woods are full of high profile, highly paid coaches who didn't win.

And what exactly is Michigan buying with such a highly paid coach? Any guarantees? Is there another coach out there who doesn't the Harbaugh name, would work cheaply - say, $1 million a year? - and still be able to win at Michigan?

TigerBlog is always fascinated by this. There is a perception that school or pro teams have to throw truckloads of money at big-name coaches because they have some proven formula that guarantees wins. TB laughs at that. There are high school coaches out there who are better actual coaches than NFL coaches. Jim Harbaugh knows this.

The reality is that there are very few "super-coaches," ones who could go anywhere and win. Nick Saban wins big at Alabama? Gee, stunning. How about coaching the bottom team in the SEC and then winning there? That would impress TigerBlog.

What if Michigan could play in alternate universes, with Harbaugh as coach in one and Bob Surace as coach in the other. Suppose this could go on for five years. Would anyone bet that Harbaugh would automatically be more successful?

So what are you paying for? And what are you getting back?

One thing you get back is scorn from those at your university who aren't on board with the idea that the football coach makes 50-100 times what a good teacher makes. On the pro level, at least, TB does admit that the modern player probably wouldn't respect a coach who makes a fraction of what the players make.

TigerBlog has said this a billion times, but one of his favorite things about Princeton is that that dynamic does not exist here. The football coach, the basketball coach, no coach is bigger than the University itself.

The result is that you don't have a football coach or basketball coach who is so empowered as to feel above everything else that happens in the athletic department. Fortunately, Princeton has been blessed with coaches in those positions through the years who have understood just that.

The current group - Surace, Mitch Henderson, Courtney Banghart - certainly get it. More than that, they embrace it.

TigerBlog still wouldn't pay them $8 million a year though - or any coach, for that matter.

Especially in college.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Hanukkah

TigerBlog's people began their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah last night at sundown.

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. It tells the story of when the Maccabees, led by Judah, fought off the Greeks and restored a desecrated temple. Along the way, oil enough to last one day lasted eight days, allowing the Maccabees to restore the temple.

Somewhere through the centuries, this grew from a nice story about Jewish resistance to an excuse to give Jewish kids presents around Christmastime. At least that's the Americanized version.

TigerBlog has no memory of getting eight presents in eight nights when he was was a kid. Nor does he know anyone else who did.

As Jewish holidays go, Hanukkah isn't a really a important one from a religious standpoint.

Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover are way bigger. Hanukkah, TigerBlog would argue, doesn't even match up with Purim, which tells the story of another time TB's people were threatened for practicing their religion.

There's an old joke about all this as it relates to Jewish holidays. It goes: "they tried to kill us; we overcame; let's eat."

At the very least, Hanukkah and Purim are fairly equal. And yet Hanukkah gets all the attention, while hardly anyone ever thinks about Purim (which is in the spring, by the way).

So why does Hanukkah get all the attention, with menorahs almost as visible in public places as Christmas trees?

Well, like TB said, it's about having a holiday around the same time as Christmas, so the Jewish kids don't feel left out. And there's some political correctness/anti-Christmas bias involved as well.

Even back to when he was a kid, there were Hanukkah songs that were sung in school concerts, right alongside the Christmas ones, even if those Christmas songs just happen to be some of the best songs ever written and the Hanukkah ones don't come close to matching up, except for possible Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," which is pretty funny.

Anyway, that's TB's take on Hanukkah.

The most interesting thing about Hanukkah is that, like all Jewish holidays, it's scheduled by the Hebrew calendar, which changes radically year-to-year from the Gregorian calendar. Last year Hanukkah started on Thanksgiving. Next year it starts on Dec 6, so it would be over by now. In 2016 it starts on Christmas Eve, which takes it to New Year's Day.

This year? It started last night and runs its eight-day course.

Princeton will have only seven athletic events during the current Hanukkah, and one of them was the women's basketball game last night at Delaware.

There are three home Hanukkah basketball games, two of which are Friday night, when the women play Portland State and the men play Lipscomb, and then the men's game at home Monday against Liberty.

There's also the Princeton Athletics holiday party, which is Thursday night.

It's okay with TigerBlog if it's called a Christmas party. For starters, Christmas is a federal holiday, not just a religious one. TB isn't offended by it.

It's also the only holiday around here that completely stops the athletic program. There have been games on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Easter, Passover, every religious holiday.

This year, Princeton even played basketball on Thanksgiving.

Would there ever be games on Christmas? Unlikely. The only way would be men's basketball for television, but that's not likely.

There no college basketball games on Christmas this year for any college teams. There are also none on Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas.

And that's as it should be.

Hanukkah? Go ahead and play.

It's a nice holiday remembering a nice moment in Jewish history. It's just no Christmas, that's all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dog Days

TigerBlog likes to go for walks.

He likes to get his back scratched. He can eat the same basic food every day. He's loyal. He doesn't mind sitting on the couch for long periods of time.

In other words, he would have made a fine dog.

He thinks he would have made a much better dog than cat, though he's not sure why. Maybe it's the whole litter-box thing. TigerBlog could never do that. Yuck.

One thing he would have to object to were he a dog would be going for a "walk" while the owner either ran or, worse, rode a bike. Every time TigerBlog sees this, he wonders how up for it the dog is.

There's really nothing the dog can do, of course. If the mutt doesn't want to run, what choice is there? Stop and get its paws dragged along?

Maybe the dog likes it, though it's hard to say. And do dogs have unlimited stamina to keep up?

TigerBlog actually saw a dog yesterday who was running ahead of its owner, who was jogging. That was really bold of the pup.

TB's favorite dog of the week, though, was one of those little terriers whom he met along the towpath the other day. The dog turned out to be named Otis, which is a really good name for a dog. He was wearing a little dog sweater, which is always cute.

Anyway, Otis was on one of those leashes that extends, giving the dog a chance to run a bit without getting away. And so Otis came charging up to TigerBlog, for which the owner - a man TB didn't know but who sounded exactly like Princeton water polo coach Luis Nicolao - apologized.

Ahead on the towpath were a bunch of geese - a gaggle, as it were. TB asked if Otis was afraid of the geese, and The Man With Luis' Voice said no. Then he took Otis off the leash, and Otis charged at the geese, who hissed, cackled and made a quick getaway as Otis jumped as high as he could. TMWLV mentioned that one time Otis jumped at a duck who was flying away and actually latched on and held on for a split second before falling.

So that was Otis.

In keeping with an animal theme, a Blue Hen is a chicken. In fact, the Blue Hen chicken is the official state bird of the state of Delaware, which explains why its sports teams are the Blue Hens.

Delaware is a really easy drive from the Princeton area, most of the time. It can take a little more than an hour from here to there, unless you get slammed in traffic, in which case it can take twice as long.

The Princeton women's basketball team will be making the trip there tonight, putting its 10-0 record on the line against the 4-3 Hens. Delaware hasn't played in nine days, presumably due to first semester exams.

Of the roughly 700 Division I men's and women's basketball teams, only 22 are still undefeated, including the Princeton women. There are 14 undefeated women's teams, which leaves eight undefeated men.

Here's the complete list:

Women - Princeton, North Carolina, Texas, St. John's, Northwestern, Youngstown State, Akron, Oregon State, Lehigh, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, UL-Lafayette

Men - TCU, Villanova, Colorado State, Arizona, Kentucky,Virginia, Louisville, Duke

Princeton's women, for the record, are receiving votes in this week's poll. The team would be ranked 30th if the rankings went out that far.

It's impossible to think about Delaware without thinking about Elena Della Donne, who is by far the best women's basketball player that TigerBlog has ever seen live. TigerBlog wrote that her performance in Jadwin Gym a few years back had to be what it was like when Bill Bradley played for Princeton's men.

Della Donne graduated two years ago, but the cupboard isn't bare for Delaware, who will clearly challenge the Tigers.

On the other hand, Princeton figures to be ready.

It's easy to say that this is a team driven by what happened at the end of last year, when losses to Brown and Penn let a fifth-straight Ivy title get away. And yes, there is a lot of that that fuels this group.

But each team is different and each year is different, with a different dynamic. And this team is very, very good. It's deep. It has multiple legitimate scoring options. It has multiple ways of scoring.

Mostly, this team helps prove that Bill Carmody's two-word description of what it takes to win at basketball is true: Make Shots.

Princeton is shooting 48% as a team. Its opponents are shooting 34%. The numbers are even more disparate from three-point range, where the Tigers are at 43% and its opponents are at 25.4%.


Princeton follows up its game against Delaware with a game Friday at 5:30 on Carril Court against Portland State. The men play Lipscomb after the women.

As for the women, the next home game after Portland State is Penn, in the Ivy opener, Jan. 10. That game is still more than three weeks away.

Will Princeton be unbeaten by then? Delaware, Portland State, Monmouth, Hartford, Savannah State or Fordham and then Hampton, all on the road.

And then it's 14 Ivy games.

The first 10 games of this season have been great. That's one-third of the season.

There's a long way to go, and there's no sense to look past Delaware, let alone to what might happen in February.

In the meantime, Princeton's women are good and fun to watch.

Hey, that's not a bad place to be in December.

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Notes

TigerBlog starts the week off with a multiple-choice question.

In the picture below, the woman with TB is: A) his cousin, B) a colleague, or C) an award-winning Broadway actress/singer.

If you guessed "C," you'd be correct. If you can correctly identify her by her picture, well, then TB is impressed.

Linda Eder is the woman's name. For the life of him, TigerBlog cannot figure out why she doesn't have multiple Tony Awards and Grammy Awards on her shelf.

TigerBlog has never met anyone who has heard her sing who doesn't rave about her. He also hasn't met many people who have heard her sing.

It has to be her own choice that she's only been in one Broadway show, the musical "Jekyll and Hyde," for which she won a 1997 Theater World Award for Best Broadway Debut. TB's favorite song of hers, "Someone Like You," is from that show.

TigerBlog has seen two of her concerts, including a recent one in which she sang a mix of Christmas songs, Broadway songs and some of her original songs, of which she has written many. She also has a bunch of albums with all kinds of Broadway songs, as well as some with Christmas music.

TigerBlog has 68 of her songs on his iTunes, which puts her in second place behind Bruce Springsteen, just ahead of Train, Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny. 

TigerBlog compares her to Judy Collins, whom he has also seen in concert, not so much for the types of music that they sing - Collins is mostly a folk singer - but in how powerful their voices are, what an incredible range they have and how the sound overwhelms the audience from the first note.

Linda Eder is also a great self-deprecating storyteller during her shows. She talked about how she wanted to be Maria as a high school senior in "The Sound of Music," only to be cast instead as the Mother Superior of the convent and then singing "Climb Every Mountain."

She talked about her big choreography move was to go from standing up to sitting on a stool. She talked about missing her 14-year-old son's wrestling match because of the concert.

She seemed like someone who loved what she was doing and appreciated her audience, so much so that she said she'd come out to the lobby to say hi, sign autographs and pose for pictures. For as many times as TB has seen the Boss, he's never once done that.

At one point during the show, she described herself as "just a big Minnesota farm girl who still drives a tractor, owns every power tool know to man and knows how to use them all." TigerBlog would describe her more as an extraordinarily talented woman with a great musical gift, and possibly add the parts about the tractor and power tools after that.

With December and Christmas concerts comes a lull in the Princeton Athletics schedule. Princeton has very few teams who still have events for the rest of the calendar year and into the beginning of 2015, after it all shuts down for two weeks for first semester exams.

Then it's the sprint to the rest of the winter, and only a few weeks until the overlap between winter and spring. Hey, TigerBlog sent a tweet yesterday at 1, noting that it was exactly two months until opening face-off of men's lacrosse season. Two months? It's not even Christmas yet.

This weekend was slow to begin with, and it became even slower when the men's hockey team ran into unforeseen difficulties in Linda Eder's home state.

The Tigers flew to Minnesota Thursday and then bussed an hour from Minneapolis to Mankato to take on the third-ranked team in the country, Minnesota State-Mankato, Friday and Saturday. Only it turned out to be only Friday, as the home team would not field a team for Saturday's scheduled game due to a sudden outbreak of the flu.

As a result, Princeton instead found itself in Minnesota with nothing to do on its Saturday night. It ranks up there with a fall water polo game in the indoor pool that was postponed due to lightning as the most unlikely cancellations of the year, TB supposes.

One team that wasn't stopped was the women's basketball team, who defeated Binghamton 96-58 to become the first Princeton men's or women's team to get to 10-0 in a basketball season, as well as the first Ivy women's team ever - and first Ivy team of either gender since the 1970-71 Penn Quakers went 28-0 to start the year.

Next up? At Delaware tomorrow night.

There are 15 events - assuming they all get played - remaining on the athletic calendar for 2014. Of those 15, 11 are away from Princeton.

The only remaining home games are a basketball doubleheader Friday (women's vs. Portland State, men's vs. Lipscomb) beginning at 5:30. There is also a home men's basketball game against Liberty a week from today and then home men's hockey against Quinnipiac on the 28th.

If you're heading to New York Sunday to see the tree and do some Christmas shopping, you can see Princeton wrestling at Madison Square Garden. Anything called "Grapple in the Garden" has to be pretty cool.

In the meantime, Linda Eder's version of "Do You Hear What I Hear" just came onto TB's iTunes.

And so TB will end today where he began, with Linda Eder.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Carmody Visits, Isaac Dominates And A Quiet Weekend At Princeton

It was a fairly gray day yesterday in Princeton, with swirling snow flurries and a brisk wind and only one moment where TigerBlog thought he detected a hint of sunshine, only to have it yanked away as a mirage.

TigerBlog was going about his regular Thursday, when all of the sudden a visitor emerged in his doorway.

This happens quite often in TB's office. His door is almost always open, and someone usually strolls in every five minutes or so.

This time, though, was different. This time, the visitor changed the entire tenor of the day.

This time, it was Bill Carmody.

The last time Bill Carmody was in TigerBlog's office was 14 years ago, when he was the Princeton men's basketball coach, before he left to coach Northwestern.

Back then, TigerBlog was the men's basketball contact and was for all four of Carmody's seasons as Princeton head coach. TB first met Carmody in the late ’80s back when he was Pete Carril's assistant and TB was in the newspaper business.

To say that Carmody is one of TB's all-time heroes would be a bit of an understatement. The four years that Carmody was head coach were one continuous great moment after another, as in great teams, great wins, great crowds, great media coverage, great players and great trips.

At the fore of all of it was Carmody, who combined an ultra-competitive personality - visible any time TB ever saw him play lunchtime basketball - with a demeanor that suggested he wasn't really taking any of it all that seriously.

Oh, but clearly he was.

Carmody led Princeton to the 1997 and 1998 Ivy League championships and NCAA tournaments and the 1999 and 2000 NIT. He was the head coach when Princeton came from 27 points back in the second half to beat Penn. He was the head coach who took his team past Florida State, Texas and UNC Charlotte on consecutive nights to win the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii.

As an aside, after one of those games in Hawaii, Carmody was asked by the local media about how every member of his team could shoot from beyond the arc. His response: "Everyone on our team can make a three. Our center can. Our SID can."

The good news is that TB has that one on tape. The bad news is that it's on a mini-cassette, and TB has no way of ever playing it again.

TB asked Carmody how he was, what he was up to. Carmody answered and punctuated it with one of those gestures that TB had seen so many times through the years, the one where he bends his elbows at 90 degrees, extends his hands palms up and then moves his hands in opposite directions.

It was great to see him. It always is.

In other tangential Princeton basketball news, TigerBlog watched some of the current group of lunchtime basketballers for a few minutes yesterday.

TB played at lunchtime for about 12 years or so, before he switched to squash. He would refer to his years of playing as the glory days of Jadwin lunchtime basketball.

Having said that, TB can't remember a time when he saw someone dominate at lunchtime the way Isaac Serwanga did for about five minutes yesterday.

Isaac was a wide receiver on the Princeton football team who also spent time on the basketball and track and field teams. He graduated in 2012.

TB wrote a feature about him for the game program his senior year in which Isaac talked about wanting to go to medical school. Somewhere in there his plans appeared to have changed, as he now works in general administration in the athletic department.

Given that he is a little more than two years removed from being a Division I athlete, it's safe to assume that he could have an impact in lunchtime basketball.

But to this extent? TB saw him throw three great passes - including one where the recipient didn't miss the uncontested layup. Serwanga drove for his own made layup and then knocked down a three-pointer.

Then he took the ball away from Jon Kurian - whose excuse after the fact was that he's 42 years old - and drove down the court to finish the game with a lefthanded dunk. All in all, it was fairly impressive.

If you're looking for more basketball in Jadwin this weekend, there's a women's game tomorrow against Binghamton at 2 (not 2:30, as TB said the other day). Princeton will be looking to get to 10-0 in that one, something that no Ivy League women's team has ever done (of course, no Ivy women's team has ever been 9-0 before), no Princeton men's team has ever done and no Ivy men's team has done since the 1970-71 Penn team did it.

There are only five Princeton athletic events this weekend, involving only four teams, and only two of those events are home - both, interestingly enough, against Binghamton. In addition to the women's basketball game, the wrestling team hosts Binghamton at 7 tonight.

Originally Princeton was also supposed to wrestle Sacred Heart as well, but the Pioneers had to reschedule due to a conflict with final exams. TigerBlog is glad to see Sacred Heart putting academics first.

The men's basketball team is on a plane to California today to play at Cal tomorrow. The men's hockey team is in Minnesota to take on the third-ranked team in the country, Minnesota State-Mankato.

Those two opponents are a combined 20-5-0.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

20 Years Ago Today

TigerBlog can remember pretty much every detail from Dec. 11, 1994, 20 years ago today.

It's a hard day for him to forget. It's the day his mother died, 20 years ago today.

Dec. 11, 1994, was a Sunday. TigerBlog's day began in Champaign, Ill., where he was with the Princeton men's basketball team. He'd been there since Friday, as Princeton played in the Ilini Classic, beating Eastern Illinois in the first round and then playing an awful game and losing to Illinois in the final.

MotherBlog - her real name was Gail - was just 55 years old when she died, struck down by lung cancer. She had been a heavy smoker who had quit a few years before she got sick, too late to undo the damage.

If anyone you were close to has ever died from cancer, then you know what MotherBlog went through.

She fought the disease hard, with an unflinching attitude and determination. At first, it was "okay, how do I beat this?" Then it was "the treatment is bad, but it can't break me." Then it was "I am doing fine."

Even at the end, there was no quit. No give up. Not ever.

TigerBlog has a plastic container filled with cards he received - many from people he never met - after his mother's death. He keeps one in his desk drawer, the one from someone who knew MotherBlog in the last year of her life, one that says "she was the most courageous person I ever met."

Maybe she was courageous. Maybe she was just forced to be, given the alternative. It doesn't matter. Her truest nature was revealed in her illness.

TigerBlog also has with him the eulogy he wrote for her funeral. He likened her to Lou Gehrig when he said he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth," shortly before his own death. That's how MotherBlog was, to the very, untimely, end.

MotherBlog was a woman of great character and spirit. She stood barely 5-3, and most of it was her big heart.

TB assumes that it would be normal to make more out of someone's memory than they were in real life, especially when 20 years have passed by and when it was a parent.

In his case, though, he's pretty sure he remembers his mother exactly how she was. Great character. Great spirit.

She loved life. She loved people. She loved to buy nice clothes and great meals. She loved Steve McQueen and the Washington Redskins and debating politics and died thinking Walter Mondale would have been a great President.

She respected everyone as an individual and was critical only of those who judged others. She was genuine. What you saw was what she was.

There is nothing about MotherBlog that has faded through the years for her younger son. He can still see her face, hear her voice, feel her hugs, remember her words.

TB was recently asked a simple question - what would his mother have said to him in a specific situation? He didn't even have to flinch, because he knew exactly what she would have said.

She would have encouraged. She would have demanded more. She would have laughed with him, and advised him and made it crystal clear that she was disappointed in him had that been the case.

That's how she was. No B.S. No time for that.

She was about accountability, but she also understood the human element involved. She knew people weren't perfect and that everyone had flaws, her included. It's just that she expected you to know what your flaws were and work to improve in those areas, not try to con her into thinking otherwise.

She spoke directly. She did not believe in sugar-coating. She often punctuated it with, uh, saltier language. Hey, she's the one who taught TB that there are way worse things in the world than cursing.

She was a registered nurse who then got a bachelor's degree in politics. She spent much of her life working for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, as a teacher of long-term care for M.S. patients and as a lobbyist. Upon her death, she wanted her ashes scattered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, which was done on Mothers' Day 1995.

MotherBog lived in Atlanta in her final years, though it was more of a home base than anything else. Mostly she traveled the country, teaching, advocating. Most of the cards in the box are from those she touched along the way.

TigerBlog saw her on Friday morning, having gone to Atlanta on Thursday before then flying on to Cleveland and Chicago before driving to Champaign. The doctors at that point had suggested that she was stable and had a few more weeks left.

On Sunday morning, he called Atlanta and got no answer, but he figured his brother and uncle (who was also there) had gone to breakfast or something and that his mother was asleep.

He flew to Cleveland and then to Newark and then drove home. It was only when he got there that he heard all of the messages on his answering machine, imploring him to get back to Atlanta ASAP.

Of course, this was before cell phones, email and texting. Otherwise, he never would have gone to Newark.

He was able to get on the last flight out of Philadelphia that night on his way to Atlanta. It was a Delta 767, a huge plane that was almost empty. At one point, TB decided to use the phone on the plane - the only time in his life he has ever done this - to call the hospital and see what was up.

BrotherBlog answered the phone, and TB knew immediately she was gone. He didn't have to say a word. As it turned out, TigerBlog called less than a minute after she had passed away.

Now it's 20 years later. MotherBlog got cheated out of so much in life. She never got to retire. She never got to meet her two grandchildren.

TB is not too far away from the age his mother was when she died and nearly 40% of his life has been lived since she died. He hopes he has decades and decades left, but he has no way of knowing.

He tries to give up understanding why some die early and others live a long time. FatherBlog is nearly 80 and still going strong. MotherBlog died at 55. Ann Bates died at 43. Bob Callahan fights ever day to keep going.

Why some and not others? There's no way to know. It's not fair, TB knows that.

Her 75th birthday would have been last month. He wonders what she would have been like at age 75. He wonders what kind of grandmother she would have been.

He wonders what his relationship with her would be like and what kind of influence she would have over the person he has been for the last 20 years. He wonders what she would have thought of him as a parent.

TigerBlog has seen his children grow to be teenagers. They never knew their grandmother. He's tried to teach them about her, tell them what she was like. He sees parts of her in both of his kids.

How great would it have been to all be together for her 75th birthday? How great would have it have been to see her with TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog, knowing how much about life they had to learn from her.

Sadly, that was never to be.

TigerBlog has thought a lot about his mother lately. He's tried to imagine that she was still here with him. He hears songs he knows she loved and imagines that she is still around to sing them. He sees pictures of her and immediately is taken back to the moments when they were taken.

That's all he has, though. His mother exists now only in his memories. And it's been like that for a long time, exactly 20 years, in fact.

He'd love for all that to be different, but it can't be. He'd love one more chance to thank her for everything she ever said and did, for every laugh, for every moment they had together. He'd love one more chance just to send her a card for her birthday or Mothers' Day or to call and say hi and say he loves her.

Or maybe even just one time to tell her he misses her.

And that she doesn't have to worry.

Twenty years to the day. Forty years to the day. A hundred years to the day.

He'll never forget what a great woman his mother was.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Three Parts

This first part has nothing to do with the Princeton women's basketball team.

This first part is about a story that TigerBlog read yesterday about a high school football game in Oklahoma that is now the subject of a lawsuit to determine who won. TB cringes as he writes the words.

Frederick Douglass High School was trailing Locust Grove 20-19 with a little more than a minute to go in a state playoff game. Douglass - a one-time slave who became an abolitionist - then scored on a 64-yard touchdown pass to apparently go up 25-20.

That's when the chaos ensued.

A Douglass coach ran down the sideline while his player was running to the end zone and accidentally bumped an official. Because the sideline had been warned earlier, a flag was thrown.

According to the rule, this should have been a five-yard, post-possession foul assessed on the kickoff. Instead, the refs incorrectly called the touchdown back.

Locust Grove held on 20-19. Frederick Douglass was not pleased.

The result was legal action that seeks to have the game replayed from the point of the touchdown. Locust Grove was prevented from playing its next game, pending the ruling, which is supposed to be today.

TigerBlog's take?

Life isn't fair. The refs made a mistake. Frederick Douglass did have all game to put itself in a position to not be down by a point with a minute to go, but hey, nobody wants to mention that.

What message is sent by going to court? Ah, forget it. What's the point? That's how America is now.

This next part doesn't have to do with Princeton women's basketball either.

TCU was ranked third last week in the college football playoff poll. This week they were sixth - after a 55-3 win over a bad Iowa State team. This dropped the Horned Frogs out of the four-team playoff.

TigerBlog isn't saying that TCU should be in over Ohio State. What he's saying is that it looks ridiculous to have a team be third one week and sixth the next after a 55-3 win. And yes, he knows that the committee said that the rankings one week have nothing to do with the ones the next.

Still, it looks ridiculous. Actually, no, it looks like the committee thought more people would watch Alabama-Ohio State than Alabama-TCU.

Okay, now TB is up to the part about women's basketball.

Princeton destroyed Michigan 85-55 on its home court in Ann Arbor last night, improving to 9-0 on the season. Princeton is now the first women's basketball team in Ivy history to win its first nine games.

As for the men's side? Princeton has twice started 9-0 in men's basketball, back in 1919-20 and 1914-15. There have been five other 8-0 starts, most recently in the 1966-67 season.

Penn's men were 28-0 to start the 1970-71 season. That would be the last time an Ivy men's team won its first nine.

Princeton isn't just winning. It's doing what it did last night.

The Tigers had four players in double figures, including two with more than 20 - Michelle Miller (25) and Blake Dietrick (22). Oh, and Dietrick had one of the greatest stat lines you will ever see: 25 points, 8 for 11 shooting, 4 for 5 from three-point range, nine rebounds, eight assists, zero turnovers.

Princeton shot 56.3% while holding Michigan to 40% shooting. Actually, the Tigers shot way better from three-point range (11 for 19, 58%) than Michigan did from two-point range (18 for 43, 42%). Princeton outrebounded the Wolverines 35-23, had 25 assists on 35 baskets and had a 25:11 assists:turnover ratio.

In other words, Princeton did everything well. In other words, Princeton isn't just relying on one thing to sustain it.

Oh, and by the way, Michigan was 6-1 coming into the game. And that's Michigan, as in the Big Ten.

Princeton's four-year streak of Ivy championships ended last year in a brutal loss to Penn on the season's final day. To say that this team remembers that feeling is something of an understatement.

Through nine games this year, Princeton is averaging 72.6 points per game. For the 2013-14 season, Princeton averaged 75.7 points per game. Scoring offense is down slightly.

But the defense? Last year, Princeton allowed 64.1 points per game - 68.0 in non-league games. This year? That number is now at 51.8.

Next up is Binghamton, Saturday at 2:30. There are still seven non-league games before the big one, a month from today.

It'll be Jan. 10 when Penn comes back to Carril Court, where last March it defeated Princeton 80-64 in a dominant performance in a winner-take-all showdown for the Ivy championship.

This time it'll be the Ivy opener for both. It'll also be Princeton's last game before a 20-day break for first semester exams.

In other words, it's a huge one.

It's still too early to focus on that day. For now, it's a time to see how good Princeton is, what the team's ceiling is for the year, if it continues to improve.

The game Saturday is the second-to-last one here for this calendar year. There is also a Dec. 19 against Portland State, though there are also four other games within a 90-minute drive.

In the meantime, Princeton is 9-0, with two wins against ACC teams and one each over the Big Ten and Big East.

That's a pretty good start, no?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Zeuli And Shon

Today TigerBlog will be talking about Mike Zeuli and Kelly Shon.

Zeuli first.

TigerBlog figured that Harvard's Zach Hodges would win the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year yesterday at the Waldorf-Astoria. He thought that the offensive award was a toss-up between Yale's Tyler Varga and Dartmouth's Dalyn Williams, with an edge to Williams.

He was wrong there.

Still, was it so far-fetched to think that a quarterback who completed 65% of his passes and had 21 touchdown passes and only three interceptions while running for another 444 yards and six touchdowns couldn't win over a running back who ran for 1,423 yards and 22 touchdowns? Especially when 1) the running back was helped by a quarterback who threw for more yards than any other QB in the league and 2) the quarterback's team finished second and the running back's team finished third?

Hey, it's not a knock on Varga at all. He's a great player. It's just that TigerBlog is really impressed with Williams and would probably have voted for him.

Maybe that's influenced by the fact that Williams has played some of his best games against Princeton.

As for the defensive side of the ball, Hodges won the Bushnell Cup last year, led the league in sacks this year, is Harvard's all-time leader in sacks and plays for a team that went 10-0. TB figured all that would put Hodges over the top.

Instead, Hodges and Zeuli split the votes and shared the award.

That's great for Zeuli, and it's a sign of just how great a season he had. Zeuli led the league in tackles for loss and was second in overall tackles, as well as fifth in sacks.

More than that, he was a force on every play. What he did was play really, really hard on every single snap.

His intensity was obvious at all time. He flew from sideline to sideline and attacked endlessly. He was often unblockable.

His Princeton football resume will include an Ivy title, two bonfires and now the Bushnell Cup. There aren't many holes there, and TB was happy to see him get the acknowledgement from the league coaches - or half of them at least.

Kelly Shon graduated a year ago. This past weekend, she earned her LPGA tour card, which is a huge deal in the world of golf.

Shon becomes the first Princeton golfer and third Ivy League golfer ever to get an LPGA card. Doing so allows her to play in basically any LPGA event in 2015.

To earn her card, she had to go through three stages of qualifying. The top 100 from Stage 1 advanced, and she tied for 98th. She then had to finish in the top 80 in Stage 2 and easily did so, finishing 56th. This past weekend she had to be in the top 20, and she finished ninth after playing five rounds.

Shon was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year while at Princeton. She also qualified for the NCAA championships her junior year, making her one of two Princeton golfers ever to do so.

TigerBlog has always been a huge fan of the athletic diversity that makes up Princeton's varsity program.

There are 38 teams that compete in wildly different sports, requiring vastly different physical and mental abilities. Zeuli plays football. Shon plays golf. Does it get much different than that?

TB has no idea if Zeuli and Shon have ever met each other or talked to each other.

There's something fascinating, though, about being part of a department with 1,000 athletes who come from such different backgrounds and perspectives and then compete under the singular name "Princeton."

It was a big few days for two of those athletes, one who graduated last year, one who will graduate this year.

TB congratulates both of them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

An 11-0 Saturday

TigerBlog received  text message yesterday morning that pointed out that the eight Ivy League men's basketball teams had all won this weekend, beginning with Yale's 45-44 win over UConn Friday and then continuing with a 7-0 Saturday that included Princeton's 77-64 win over Stony Brook.

The text that TB received suggested that this must be a record. TB's response? It had to at least tie a record.

A little later yesterday, TB saw a commercial for the iPhone 6 that mentioned how easy it was now to record voice tags and text them, so that subtle humor and sarcasm aren't lost in the straightforward words of the text.

For instance, had someone texted TB the fact that he can now easily text his voice, his returned text might be "you mean people can now have their voices go through their phones?"

This, of course, is true. It also got TB to thinking about how it could be seen as blasphemy in the current world, where about 10 billion text messages are sent each day.

And now you can send your voice? Hey, just call someone then if that's what you want to do?

Let's use TigerBlog Jr. and Miss TigerBlog as an example. In any given month, they send and receive about 5,000 text messages between them. They also spend about 20 minutes per month actually talking on the phone, and TB assumes this is almost all to him.

Now they can text their voices to their friends? What a world. PICK UP THE PHONE AND DIAL IT? Nah. Never.

That of course requires actually engagement and human interaction, as opposed to the quick back-and-forth of texting. Of course, TB is as guilty of it as anyone else, so who is he to point this out.

He's pretty sure that had the text message been invented before the ability to speak on the phone, texting would be obsolete right now.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Ivy basketball.

The nice weekend started with the Yale win, which has to be the first win for a league team over the defending NCAA champion since Princeton's 1996 win over UCLA. At least TB assumes so. If he's missing another one, then he apologizes.

Interestingly, Princeton's win over UCLA came when both teams scored in the 40s as well, with a final of 43-41. Maybe that's the way to do it? Play a really ugly game and then make the big shots when you need them.

Oh, want to know a game that wasn't ugly at all? Did you see NJIT's 72-70 win over Michigan Saturday?

On the one hand, NJIT was swept by UMass-Lowell. On the other hand, NJIT did lose by five at Marquette. Of course, on yet another hand, Michigan had just knocked off Syracuse before it lost to NJIT.

Can any team have to go through what NJIT does? It's the lone independent in Division I, and so it has to schedule anyone it can at any time. As a result, the Highlanders play only seven games after Jan. 25, and only five of those are against Division I teams.

And yet, there they were, taking it to Michigan Saturday. Even when Michigan took the lead more than once in the second half, NJIT answered every time, hitting big shot after big shot - all while running a pretty nice version of the Princeton offense.

Meanwhile, back at the Ivy League, Yale beat UConn Friday and then the rest of the league went 7-0 Saturday.

Princeton trailed by nine midway through the second half before outscoring Stony Brook by 22 the rest of the way. Steven Cook led Princeton with 28. Spencer Weisz showed how valuable he is by playing 39 minutes despite shooting 1 for 8; you don't stay on the court that long if you're not doing a lot of other things really well.

In the league standings, Harvard is currently 6-1.

If you like to play such games, you can do this: Harvard lost to Holy Cross who lost to Sacred Heart who lost to UMass-Lowell who lost to Cornell who lost to Drexel who lost to University of the Sciences who lost to Indiana University of Pennsylvania who lost to Mercyhurst who lost to Gannon who lost to Glenville State.

Every team is 0-0 in league games, so it doesn't really matter yet whose record is what. Princeton has one league game between now and Jan. 30, and that's the Jan. 10 game here against Penn.

A year ago, Princeton lost its league opener at Penn and had to sit on that fact for three weeks during exams before playing at Harvard. This year, Princeton hosts Penn and then Harvard again in its second game, three weeks later, after exams. This only difference is that those games are home this year.

In addition to a 7-0 Saturday for the men, the Ivy women went 4-0 Saturday, making it 11-0 overall.

The most impressive win of the bunch? Princeton's 29-point win over Georgetown's women.

Princeton is now 8-0 in the league as it heads to the airport to take on Michigan tomorrow. Princeton has two wins over ACC schools and now one over the Big East. 

Princeton has excelled offensively and defensively. It has won seven of its eight games by at least 16 points. It has depth. It has experience. It has toughness.

It also has a chip on its shoulder after last season didn't end the way the Tigers would have hoped, as the four-year Ivy championship run ended at Jadwin with a lopsided loss to Penn.

This year, like the men, Princeton opens its Ivy season against the Quakers, also on Jan. 10. And, like the men, the women will then have three weeks before it plays again, this time at Harvard.

Those first two league games will be huge.

They're also more than a month away.

For now, it's early in basketball season. And that's what Saturday was all about. A nice early-season showing by the Ivy League.