Monday, December 7, 2015

A Sunday Afternoon Party At Jadwin

It was halftime of the Princeton-Michigan women's basketball game yesterday afternoon at Jadwin Gym when TigerBlog saw an instantly familiar face.

It was Damani Leech, Class of 1998. Damani was a three-time first-team All-Ivy League football player at Princeton, an achievement not too many others have matched.

Joining Damani on the "first-team All-Ivy in three different years" list are Derek Graham, Matt Evans, Dennis Norman and Caraun Reid.  TigerBlog thinks that's it. If he's missed anyone, he apologizes.

Beyond his on-field accomplishments, Damani was also responsible for two technological firsts for TigerBlog.

The first was TB's inaugural experience with auto-correct. TigerBlog typed "Damani" in Microsoft Word, and it autocorrected it to "Ad Man." And this was long before "Mad Men" became a show.

The second was that TB had a great picture of Leech, an actual photograph. It became the first one TB ever scanned.

TigerBlog hasn't seen Leech in years. He knew that Damani had a big position with the NCAA for years, and now Damani is working for the NFL in New York City.

Damani was in Princeton to participate in the Princeton Varsity Club's Insiders Look at Careers in Sports event. And for the basketball game.

It was sort of a mix of sporting event and party at Jadwin yesterday afternoon. The exclamation point on the party was supplied by Michelle Miller with a minute to go.

Miller was trapped a few feet behind the three-point line as the shot clock was about to expire when she heaved the ball in the general direction of the basket. Of course it swished in.

That's how it went for the Princeton women's basketball team.

The opponent, Michigan, was 7-0 coming into Jadwin Gym. The Wolverines were a WNIT semifinalist team a year ago. They are in the Big Ten. They averaged 88 points per game coming into the game. This was no pushover.

Add to that the fact that Princeton had beaten Michigan by 30 a year ago, which certainly must have been on the team's collective minds before the game.

None of it mattered. Princeton won the game 74-57, holding the Wolverines 31 points below their average.

This was no ordinary game for Princeton. In addition to playing such a big-name team, the game was on ESPN2, which brought with it a large national audience.

Princeton has worked hard to make its name on the national scale. It's come with five NCAA tournaments in the last six years, including last year's 30-0 run through the regular season.

Each year, Princeton has had to prove that it's more than just one player or one class, that each year is its own challenge and ultimately its own success story. This year's team won't have a perfect regular season, not with a 71-64 loss to 21st-ranked Seton Hall.

But that doesn't mean that this team has fallen out of the national conversation for this year. Far from it. In fact, the Tigers looked great against Michigan.

Princeton shot exactly 50% for the game, while holding Michigan to 38% shooting. Playing against a team known for its pressure D, it was Princeton who forced 22 turnovers.

Beyond the numbers, Princeton continues to simply look the part of a good, confident, veteran, athletic, multi-faceted, balanced team. It's easy to tell just by watching them play.

Jadwin looked great, with fans on both sides, many of them dressed in orange. Princeton, TB led 3-0 on an Annie Tarakchian three-pointer with 1:24 gone in the game, and the Tigers would never trail or even be tied the rest of the way.

Miller led the Tigers with 24, including 6 of 8 three-point shooting. Alex Wheatley, Amanda Berntsen and Vanessa Smith were all great as well.

Going head-to-head with the NFL, Christmas shopping and any number of other options, Princeton-Michigan drew just short of 2,000 fans to Jadwin. That's in addition to all the people who watched on television.

It was good to see Damani.

Back when he played football at Princeton, TigerBlog isn't sure he ever would have imagine the heights that the women's basketball team has reached. He's not sure he would have imagined an ESPN2 audience, a large Jadwin crowd, a nationally relevant program.

That's what Princeton women's basketball has become.

To TigerBlog, what speaks the loudest about what Courtney Banghart has done is the number of men and boys who are her team's game. They know. They appreciate what they're seeing.

It's extraordinary, really. Don't underestimate or gloss over how incredible an accomplishment that is. 

Yesterday afternoon was more than a game, though. It was, as TB said, a party. A Sunday afternoon Jadwin party.

One that was all Princeton.

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