Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Head Coach Brian Earl

Brian Earl was a baby-faced 18-year-old when TigerBlog first met him.

It was back in 1995, when Earl came to Princeton to play basketball. TigerBlog had heard of him, knew that he was bringing with him a reputation for being a big-time outside shooter.

It took about five minutes of Earl's first game for TB to love how he played. By the time Earl graduated four years later, TigerBlog had seen every game he played but one.

Earl finished his career as the 1999 Ivy League Player of the Year, with 1,428 career points, and, at the time, as the Ivy League's all-time leader in three-pointers made. He had a team-best 21 points in the 1998 NCAA tournament win over UNLV, and he helped Princeton ruin the last game ever at North Carolina State's Reynolds Coliseum in the second round of the 1999 NIT.

His best performance? It came in the comeback game at the Palestra in 1999, when Princeton rallied from 27-3 down and 40-13 with 15 minutes left to beat Penn 50-49. Earl had 20 points that night, almost all of it in the second half, most of it when an empty possession would have destroyed the comeback.

HERE are some highlights.

When TigerBlog thinks back to Earl as a player, he remembers all of those games - he went 40 minutes in all of them, by the way. He remembers all of the nights on the road, when Earl was the focal point of venom from opposing fans that TB has never heard matched in the league. If it was nasty or obscene, it was yelled at Earl.

He remembers the story he wrote about Earl for the game program when Earl was a senior, how he wrote about the way Earl looked like you could knock him off his feet with the slightest nudge. Only you couldn't. No. He kept moving. Kept fighting. Stone faced at all times.

And then, as TB wrote, it was "three more in his pocket."

And yesterday, he thought back to a conversation he had with Gary Walters, the former athletic director, back when Earl was a player. It was a conversation in which TB told Walters that he thought Earl would make a great coach.

TigerBlog always thought that about Earl. It wasn't because he was such a great player. It was because he definitely saw the game, made everyone a better player, saw the big picture of what the team was trying to do.

Today Brian Earl is a baby-faced almost 40 year old. And he's a Division I head coach.

Earl was named the head coach at Cornell yesterday. He'll be heading to Ithaca after spending the last nine years as an assistant coach at Princeton, under Sydney Johnson and Mitch Henderson.

Those three, by the way, are half of the six Princeton alums who are now Division I head coaches. The other three are John Thompson, Mike Brennan and Chris Mooney.

Earl takes over a team that finished tied for last this past season, though he does get Matt Morgan, a freshman who averaged 19 a game this year.

Cornell has gotten a great one.

He has a lot of Bill Carmody/John Thompson in him. Don't be fooled by his understated personality and inherent calmness. He, like Carmody and Thompson, may be quiet, with a subtle, sarcastic sense of humor and a laugh that is more of a smile.

But make no mistake.

Like the other two, he is a fierce competitor. Like the other two, he's one of the most competitive people TigerBlog has ever met.

It came out in every game he played. He's a tough guy, and has been since Day 1 in 1995.

Now he's going to bring that toughness to Ithaca.

He's one of the most well-liked players Princeton has ever had. He is one of the greatest players Princeton basketball has had, and still to this day, only Douglas Davis (with 276)  has come within 48 threes of the number Earl put up.

He was part of an extraordinary era in Princeton basketball. He played in the win over UCLA, hitting a huge three-pointer in the second half. He was part of Pete Carril's last team and Bill Carmody's first.

He helped lead the Tigers into the top 10 as a junior, when Princeton went a remarkable 27-2.  For TigerBlog's money, it would take a lot for any Ivy team since to beat that team.

Now he's trading his Orange and Black for Big Red.

It'll be really weird to see him at Cornell, instead of at Princeton. He's been one of the best representatives Princeton Athletics has had in TB's time here, as both an athlete and coach.

So good luck to Brian Earl as he embarks on his head coaching career.

No matter what he does at Cornell, he'll always been a Princeton guy to TigerBlog. A great one, at that.

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