Friday, November 12, 2010

Cover Boys

Chris Thomforde, all 6-10 or so of him, ranks fifth all-time at Princeton in free throw percentage.

Thomforde made 382 of 461 foul shots in his career, a percentage of .829. Extra credit for those who can name the four players who are above him (answer to be revealed below). Want a hint? None of the four was a center.

As a senior, Thomforde made 123 of 137 foul shots, a .898 percentage that ranks second on Princeton's single-season list.

This week, Thomforde spoke as part of the Princeton Varsity Club's Jake McCandless ’51 Speaker Series. TigerBlog attended the luncheon at the boathouse to hear some of Thomforde's remarks, which included a question-and-answer session at the end.

Thomforde's life since Princeton has been about spirituality (he's an ordained minister) and education (he's now the president of Moravian College), and all of the questions fell into these two categories.

TB's proposed questions for Thomforde had nothing to do with either. Instead, TB was going to ask three questions: 1) what do you think made you such a great foul shooter when other big men aren't; 2) if you had played with a three-point shot, do you think you would have taken (and made) many; and 3) do you know how many career points you scored?

The situation at the luncheon was a familiar one for TigerBlog, who often finds himself in settings with Princeton athletes from eras before TB was around about whom TB knows basically everything. It leads the fine line of being able to talk to that person about his or her career achievements without coming across as a bit, uh, freaky. As such, telling Thomforde that he scored 1,122 points in his three varsity seasons might have seemed somewhat odd.

As TB heard Thomforde speak, a lot of the story was familiar - a Long Island kid, Thomforde came to Princeton and played his sophomore season under Butch van Breda Kolff and his last two under Pete Carril before graduating in 1969. Thomforde was a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection, and Princeton won the Ivy title outright in 1967 and 1969 and tied Columbia but lost the playoff in 1968.

And, of course, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1967, along with then-senior point guard Gary Walters, who obviously is Princeton's Director of Athletics.

After Thomforde left the luncheon but before the evening's speech, he and Walters stopped by the Dillon Gym library to recreate their SI cover, the one from 43 years ago.

When TigerBlog put the two pictures side-by-side, his first thought was about all of the times he'd heard any number of coaches say that their favorite part of coaching here is how kids come in as 18 and 19 year olds and meet people in the first few days here who become friends for life after that.

Seeing those two pictures in many ways was a personification of that thought.

Two kids, one from Reading, Pa., the other from Long Island. One a public school kid, the other a parochial school kid. Thrown together completely randomly, with the common decision to play basketball at Princeton. Walters could have just as easily played at Maryland; Thomforde could easily have been at St. John's.

And yes, all of college works the same way. TB's college roommate Charlie, who checks in several times a week, recently sent an email about how his new rabbi is a Princeton alum and could I send him something that said Princeton on it for him.

As an aside, when TB asked what size, Charlie's response was "he's a big friggin' rabbi."

But having the shared experience of being college teammates is unique. In many ways, it's like having been in the Army together, with the physical, emotional, mental and social aspects of practicing and competing together.

All of these years later, Thomforde was telling the story about the only time he was ever able to get Walters and Carril to listen to him and do what he wanted done, which was when he was officiating Walters' wedding in the Dartmouth chapel. And there was Walters, introducing his friends as "the best person I've ever met."

As ridiculous as it may seem, Princeton basketball season starts this weekend, with the men at home against Rutgers tonight (7) and the women home tomorrow at 4 against FDU in a game that will include a banner-raising ceremony for last year's NCAA tournament appearance.

If you're watching these games, keep in mind that you're watching the early stages of friendships that are going to last for decades.

If one picture is worth 1,000 words, than the two pictures - one on the cover of SI and the other a reenactment - are worth much more.

Those two together are worth a lifetime of friendship that grew out of playing college basketball together.

Those two together are a reinforcement of what all those coaches always say, that playing sports at Princeton is about so much more than just four years' worth of results.


B.McD. said...

And the answers are...

TigerBlog said...

Good point. TB forgot to include the top five:

.888 - Joe Heiser

.876 - Bill Bradley

.844 - Bob Scrabis

.8289 - Bill Ryan

.8286 - Chris Thomforde