Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Good Luck Courtney

TigerBlog remembers his first podcast with Courtney Banghart.

It was also his first podcast ever, so he had no idea what to expect. He told her that if they messed up, they could either start over and keep going and edit it later. He figured it would be a constant starting and stopping, a lot of "oh wait, that sounded dumb, can we fix it?"

Then he and Courtney began talking. And then, 15 minutes later, they were done. Simple.

TB and Courtney repeated this process every week for the last two years. They even came up with a great name for a basketball coach's podcast: "The Court Report."

In all the times they did their podcast together, they never once had to stop because they'd messed up. They had a good chemistry from the start, and their 15 or so minutes each week always seemed to fly by easily.

As TB thinks about those podcasts, though, it's the time before and after them that really resonates now. There would always be a conversation, about anything, everything or nothing, but always a conversation.

And out of those conversations TB really grew to know who Courtney was, and how she thought, and where she eventually saw herself, and what went on in her mind.

Because of that, TB can say two things for certain: 1) when he found out she was leaving Princeton to take over at North Carolina, he wasn't surprised and 2) he knows how hard it is for her to leave this place.

If you think Courtney stepped away easily, you're wrong. She gave a lot to Princeton, building a program from the ground up, to where it is now - a model of success by every conceivable measure.

Along the way, she developed incredible relationships with so many different constituencies. She was a constant presence all over campus and the local area, speaking to any number of groups about basketball and leadership and anything else.

The alumni group, which in women's basketball is extremely close and extremely loyal, embraced her as well as one of their own, even if she was a Dartmouth alum. It didn't matter what decade you had played women's basketball at Princeton; you were on board with Courtney, and she embraced you.

Mostly, she developed really strong ties with her players. She got them to believe in themselves, and she got them to believe that any basketball goal they had was attainable at Princeton.

And then she backed it up.

She took a program that had never been to the NCAA tournament and went there eight times. She won seven Ivy League championships and, beyond that, even got her team in the dance one time as an at-large, something that has never happened any other time in Ivy League basketball, men or women.

She got her team into the Top 25. She won an NCAA tournament game, the second in Ivy history. She sent players to the professional ranks in Europe, and to the WNBA.

And she produced model citizens, ones who won the top awards at this University, including the Pyne Prize this current year for senior Sydney Jordan.

Also, as TB has said many times, she turned her team's games into events. Attendance has skyrocketed. The audience has changed - Banghart created a male audience for her team, something TB would never have imagined when he first started watching the team 30 years ago. 

Leaving that was not easy. Courtney wrestled with it.

But as she said to TB many times before or after their podcasts, she had been in the Ivy League since she was 17, first as a player at Dartmouth, and then as an assistant coach. And then, at age 29, the head coach at Princeton.

Her first season was 7-23. Her second was 14-14. Her third was 26-3. There's been no looking back. She won more than 80 percent of her Ivy League games, a figure that goes to just short of 90 percent when you take away the 8-15 record of her first 23 Ivy games.

Since then? How does 129-16 sound.

She was also 5-1 in Ivy League tournament games, with three championship game appearances in the three years of the event and championships the last two years.

Now she's off to North Carolina. It's a name synonymous with basketball, that's for sure.

She'll throw herself into that challenge the way she did into this one, and TB has no doubt that there are great days ahead for UNC women's basketball.

As for Princeton women's basketball, the Tigers are in great shape. They figure to be the preseason favorite in the Ivy League again, and the 2019-20 season will feature Bella Alarie's run for a third straight Ivy Player of the Year award and the program's career record for points.

There are a ton of great young players in the program, and the future is very bright. Courtney is leaving the Tigers in great shape.

What's her legacy from her time at Princeton? Well, it depends on how much you want to hold it against her that she was only here for 12 years. Was that long enough to stamp herself as the greatest women's basketball coach in Ivy League history? 

North Carolina made its announcement yesterday morning, complete with a picture of Courtney in Carolina blue. TB thinks it was actually Photoshopped.

It doesn't matter. She's a Tar Heel now.

But she'll always carry Princeton with her. It was here that she learned to be a head coach and then excelled as a head coach. It's here that she touched so many people, won so many championships, played in so many big games, brought in so many great players - and mostly built a program that everyone at Princeton loved.

Leaving that wasn't easy.

Even if it was time.

1 comment:

George Clark '69 said...

Coach Banghart was a forceful presence in the Friends of Basketball group, as well. I had several opportunities to interact with her and with her players in that setting. Sadly, I got to know her well enough that her moving on is a personal loss to me as well as a coaching loss for womens bb. Her competitive nature made this move inevitable. To get one of the top positions in the ACC, perhaps one of the top 10 or 20 in the nation, and $700k per year, makes this a no brainer. She is as good an "in game" coach as I have seen and she is the best recruiter of Ivy caliber players the League has ever enjoyed. It won't take her long to get her sea legs in the bigger world. Thank you for what you have done for Tiger basketball. Best wishes as you take over the reins of Tar Heel basketball.