Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Basketball Anniversaries

Pete Carril had just won his 500th game as Princeton head men's basketball coach and now he was being interviewed by Mark Eckel, then with the Trenton Times.

Eckel asked Coach Carril what some of his best wins were, and Carril thought for a second and said "I guess you have to start with the Georgetown game."

TigerBlog, moderating the conversation, then had to point out that the Georgetown game technically didn't count because Princeton had actually lost that one.

The game to which Carril referred was the 1989 NCAA tournament game between the Tigers and the Hoyas. Or, more accurately, the top-ranked Hoyas and the very, very lowly regarded Tigers.

That game, by the way, was played 31 years ago today, on March 17, 1989, in Providence.

As you probably already know, Georgetown won that game 50-49 when Alonzo Mourning blocked a pair of shots in the final six seconds, by Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller, who between them would win the Ivy League Player of the Year award each year from 1989 (Scrabis) through 1990 and 1991 (Mueller).

Princeton led the game at the half 29-21, and to this day there are Princeton fans who still swear that Mourning fouled by Scrabis and Mueller. TB interviewed Scrabis on the radio at halftime of a game once and didn't ask him if he got fouled, instead asking if the shot would have gone in.

"Definitely," Scrabis said.

"I think we're a billion to one to win the whole tournament," Carril famously said before the game. "To beat Georgetown I think we're only 450 million to one."

After the game, and the no-calls at the end, he had an even more famous comment:

"I'll take that up with God when I get there," he said.

If you want to read all about that game, you can do so HERE.

All these years later, he fortunately still hasn't had a chance to take that up with God, and hopefully that conversation is still a long way off for Carril, who turns 90 in July. He's a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and he would win 514 games, along with 13 Ivy titles, while making 11 NCAA appearances and winning an NIT in his 29 years at Princeton.

He is as big an athletic icon as Princeton Athletics has ever seen, up there with anyone who has ever represented the school.

His story might be familiar, but it is no less fascinating because of that fact. He's the son of a Spanish immigrant, a steelworker who never missed a day of work in 40 years in the mills of Bethlehem, Pa.

He grew up poor, and that experience has stayed with him forever.

He is part of the legendary Princeton men's basketball coaching tree, one that started with Cappy Cappon and includes Butch van Breda Kolff, Gary Walters, Bill Carmody, John Thompson III, Joe Scott, Sydney Johnson and Mitch Henderson.

One of those 514 games that Carril did win at Princeton, in fact the 514th, was in the 1996 NCAA tournament, when the Tigers knocked off defending champion UCLA 43-41.

The 24th anniversary of that game was Saturday, and TigerBlog's colleagues Chas Dorman and Elliott Carr did a live tweet of the game. It was a really good idea, and they pulled it off well.

TB was in the RCA Dome that night, and his memories of the game, and the whole trip, are still very vivid. It was as good as it's gotten in all his time working with Princeton.

There aren't too many people left in the athletic department who worked there when that game was played. One of the people who didn't work in the department then was Henderson, the head men's basketball coach now. He, of course, played a huge role in the game.

After the live tweet ended, TB remembered a video that he and another colleague, John Bullis, filmed four years ago, on the 20th anniversary. That video was of Carril and Henderson as they sat on the couch in Henderson's office and watched a tape of the game.

TB rewatched that video and thought it was pretty good. You can see it HERE.

Pretty good, right?

Before the live tweeting, TB connected Chas with David Rosenfeld, who worked at Princeton at time of the game and was part of the department staff in Indianapolis. David pointed out that Carril and every subsequent Princeton head coach (Carmody, Thompson, Scott, Johnson and Henderson) was on the Princeton sideline that night.

How many other schools can say that?

Anyway, it's been a few days of basketball anniversaries around here, including a huge win and a huge almost-win.

It's been fun to remember back to them, as it always is.

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