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Princeton University celebrates the life of Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril

The Trentonian logo The Trentonian 10/3/2022 Kyle Franko, The Trentonian, Trenton, N.J.

Sep. 30—PRINCETON — When Mitch Henderson was hired by Princeton University to be its men's basketball coach, his mentor and former coach, Pete Carril, handed him an index card with three words on it.

Think. See. Do.

Those three little words are still the ones Henderson uses to guide him not only in his chosen profession but in life.

"After he handed me the card, he stared at me for what felt like 30 seconds with that 'are you listening' look," Henderson said. "Coach was first a history teacher, heavily influenced by the teachers in his life. He would often say the role of the coach was that of a teacher."

Many of Carril's former players and colleagues gathered on Friday inside Jadwin Gymnasium, where the court is named in his honor, to celebrate the life of the Hall of Fame coach who poured his heart and soul into Princeton University for 29 years.

"Coach meant so much to so many and he was a true force of nature who could create his own weather on a basketball court," said Class of 1970 graduate Geoff Petrie, who went on to be an NBA All-Star and later an executive with the Sacramento Kings. "He was a lifetime gift to me and so many who crossed his path. Pete lived with a fire in his belly and love in his heart. It just doesn't get any better than that."

A first ballot Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, Carril coached Princeton to 514 wins, 13 Ivy League championships and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. He died in August at age 92.

Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Spanish immigrants, he played his basketball at Liberty High and Lafayette College for Butch Van Breda Kolff from 1948-52. Carril got his start in coaching at Easton High at the junior varsity level and then spent eight seasons as the varsity coach at Reading High. He went from there to Lehigh for one season before he replaced Van Breda Kolff as the Princeton coach.

It was on Old Nassau where the cigar smoking, beer drinking, gravely voiced, Yoda of Perpetual Motion, as he was once dubbed by the New York Times, built his legacy.

"We all have our favorite stories about coach and his unique ability to take whatever rarified air you thought you were flying in and bring you back to ground," Petrie said.

Carril liked to say if you grew up with a three-car garage, you weren't tough enough. And if you couldn't rebound, you were from the wrong side of the railroad tracks.

But it was his offense of picks and rolls and backdoor cuts and movement that became known around world as the Princeton Offense. Those principals still appear today at highest level.

Just watch the Golden State Warriors.

"He was also a pioneer of basketball analytics before anyone knew what that was, which was ironic given that he had never crunched a single number on any computer," Henderson said. "... He believed that any shot, regardless of distance, in which you are not guarded, is easier than the shot where you are guarded. We've talked about the Princeton Offense, but coach didn't like that term. For him, it was about five guys playing well together, thinking together, speaking the same language."

Henderson was one of the star pupils. He was on Carril's last team for his last win — the famous 43-41 upset victory over defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

"His record here proved he was a master teacher," Henderson said. "Who will ever forget his mantra: The most important thing you are doing is the thing you are doing right now. He was practicing mindfulness before anyone knew what it was."

Think. See. Do.

"Think about what the most important thing is to do and do that in practice as often as possible. Think carefully how to work through all the different teaching points on one side of the court and then move to the other side. How does that player you are guarding prefer to move? Right or left?

"See what they do and then ask questions. Did you ever cut hard in high school? Don't respond right away, observe very carefully how someone does something and then ask them to do it again. Is it the same? Is it different? Be sure to let them know you believe in change and growth. What are they doing to make themselves experts?

"Be on the floor and engage and teach and be tireless. The do part is the work. The goal is to become a worker and overcome something that is in you and push through it to where you can see change. This is the moment that stands out for you and for coach."

Each of those points was then punctuated in Carril's raspy voice and with his familiar cadence: "Yo, what were you thinking? Yo, what do you see? Yo, what are you doing?"

It's what made him beloved by all his players.

"Dad left an imprint somehow on you," his daughter Lisa Carril said. "Some big takeaway, some lesson learned, some meaningful life situation or discussion, a task, a goal or even a difference of opinion. Something brought you into his orbit."

The Rev. Christopher M. Thomforde, a 1969 graduate, who played on Carril's first Princeton team, closed with a fitting tribute.

He had the entire gallery stand up and in unison say just one word.


(c)2022 The Trentonian, Trenton, N.J. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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