Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Sending Condolences

TigerBlog received a comment two weeks ago asking him to answer a few questions about his emotional reactions to Princeton events in the past. 

In case you didn't read it, here's what it said:

What Princeton events have made you happiest? The single best column you've ever written described your emotions when you entered into the statistics software the first ground ball your daughter picked up in a Princeton uniform. The ability of your prose to weave a sporting moment with a parent's joy and pride was on full display. Which other events have made you happiest? It might be a repeat of your answer to "greatest wins," but I suspect not. And if that resonates with you, how about List 2. What events have made you angriest or saddest? If that works for you, then proceed to List 3. What events have been most thought-provoking? Not just an emotional experience, but a cerebral one.

He was going to start today with the first part, the moments that have made him the happiest.

When he thinks back to those moments, they're not necessarily because they were the biggest wins. That was a part of it, obviously, because those moments are the ones that led to the actual reason for happiness.

It's the people. It's always about the people.

And so as TB made his list of the events that made him happiest, he always came back to one defining constant - he was happy not because Princeton won or because it made him happy; he was happy FOR someone.

Pretty much every moment he came up with fits that description. Not all, but the overwhelming majority.

One of the moments near the top would have been Princeton's win over Penn in the men's basketball season finale in 2001. That one is way, way up there on TigerBlog's list of all-time happiest moments.

If you recall, the 2000-01 men's basketball season, it was from chaos to championship in a matter of months. Princeton lost head coach Bill Carmody to Northwestern and top assistant Joe Scott to Air Force, not to mention pretty much its entire projected lineup, including likely All-Americans Chris Young and Spencer Gloger.

It was into September already when all of this happened. The program was turned over to the second assistant coach, John Thompson III, and he had what looked like an impossible job ahead of him.

Instead, the first-year head coach calmly righted the ship, pushing every correct button along the way. It all led up to the night of March 6, 2001, when Princeton hosted Penn holding a one-game lead. A Tiger win would mean an outright championship and NCAA bid. A Penn win would mean a co-championship and a playoff for the NCAA bid.

It was 31-26 Tigers at the break and then all Princeton after that. The final was 68-52 Princeton, after the Tigers shot 11 for 20 in the second half, including 5 for 9 from three.

TB's biggest memory of that night came after the game, when JT3 made the final cut off the net and then wore it draped around his neck. TB, who was the men's basketball contact at the time, had been there for every game that year, and he had seen the growth of the coach and the players up close. 

He was thrilled for all of them, and not just because of the win. He was happy FOR them as people for what they accomplished, especially Thompson, and especially because he knew what was driving him.

It was the fact that his own career at Princeton (he graduated in 1988) did not include an NCAA trip, and he wanted to get there so much for his players. How could you not be happy for him when it actually happened?

John Thompson III is a rarity in that his father (John Thompson II) and his college coach (Pete Carril) are both in the Hall-of-Fame. He is very much a product of both, which made the 1989 Princeton-Georgetown game in the NCAA tournament toughest on him.

TigerBlog saw the news yesterday that John Thompson II had passed away at the age of 78. He was a giant man, in both physical presence and in stature, and TB would say he's among the five most important people in the history of college basketball. He led Georgetown to three Final Fours (JT3 led the Hoyas to one as well when he became head coach) and the 1984 NCAA championship, and he was also a tireless champion off the court, when it came to advocating for the players, especially in his famous opposition to Prop 48, the rule that prohibited players from competing as freshmen if they didn't meet minimum scores on standardized tests.

JT3 always referred to his father as "Pops," and the two were as close as any father/son TB has ever seen. TB texted condolences to JT3 yesterday, and he offers them again here, to the entire Thompson family.

He was going to spend today talking about happiness, but it's not the right day for it. Today is more about sadness, as college basketball has lost one of its greats.

It hits closer to home for Princeton basketball. 

One of its all-time favorite sons has lost his father.

1 comment:

Steve Dietrick said...

Walt and Wendy’s daughter, Sally, played lacrosse with my daughter, Blake, at Wellesley High School. Walt rarely missed a game. He was unfailingly polite, gentle, and supportive. And humble- I never learned of Walt’s outrageously successful athletic career from Walt or anyone else in his family. I had to stumble upon it on the Princeton website. Walt was one of the good guys. The world is a lesser place for his passing.