HOW DID BILL Russell’s Celtics, Red Holtzman’s Knicks, and the Reading (Pa.) Red Knights help guide Georgetown to Atlanta last March for the Final Four? The answer can be found in a quaint East Coast college town. It lies in the dusty Dillon Gym and a new coach adjusting to the old building. The truth – the key – can be traced back to an elite private university trying to adjust to the realities of a changing student body. It all started in Princeton, N.J., in the mind of a young coach destined for the Hall of Fame but just trying to make the most of a new situation. It started as an experiment – a mixing and matching of different styles – and over time evolved into a complex system. At first it was a little Celtics and a little Knicks. But before long, it was Princeton. And now it is Georgetown. Over the years, like Phil Jackson’s triangle, the Princeton offense has taken on a life of its own. It has its own mythology and its own legends. The system has become bigger than many of the individuals who have played in it. But Pete Carril never meant for that to happen. Carril was hired by Princeton in the spring of 1967. Butch van Breda Kolff, who had coached Carril for a year at Lafayette, left the Tigers for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. Chosen to fill the vacant post was Carril, fresh off an unremarkable one-year stint at Lehigh, where his team finished 11-12. His only other experience as a head coach came at the high school level, but his tenure there was much more notable than it had been at Lehigh. In 12 years leading Reading High School in Reading, Pa., Carril amassed an impressive 145-42 record. For important games, over 9,000 fans would turn out to see Carril’s team play. At Princeton, though, things were different. The Tigers did not bring in the big crowds and within his first few seasons, the university’s student body, and with it, the face of his team, began to change. “The first years at Princeton, we scored a lot of points,” Carril says. “As tuition increased and the standards increased and players became more similar to the other students, we started to deal with smaller-type players.” The key for Carril was to get the most of his players’ superior intelligence, while minimizing the effects of their sometimes-inferior athleticism and speed. Without a clearly defined idea of how to do so, Carril began to borrow from what he calls “the great teams of the past.” First, it was the Boston Celtics. “I followed the Boston Celtics and tried some of the things they did, and that worked great,” Carril says. “They were the epitome of team play.” Of course, without Bill Russell to draw double teams or Sam Jones to knock down all those open jumpers, copying from Red Auerbach only went so far. Next, he says, he drew from the Knicks. But then, his teams didn’t quite have a Walt Frazier or Bill Bradley (who, ironically, played at Princeton under van Breda Kolff) like those Knicks teams did. Other parts of his repertoire were refined in his days at Reading. Carril’s system, a combination of many parts, was predicated on spacing the floor, moving without the ball, setting picks and making brisk passes and sharp cuts. Players were taught to quickly change directions, use a defender’s aggressiveness against him and cut to the basket. If this cut – which eventually became known as a “backdoor cut” – did not yield an open layup, the offense took its time, looked for another option, sought another open shot. The most important thing in Carril’s offense was to be patient and get a quality look at the hoop. Patience was, and still is, a virtue. As a result, scores were low. But results were impressive. The Tigers finished 14-0 in the Ivy League in 1968-69, just Carril’s second season, earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. Over the next 27 seasons, he won nearly 500 games, picked up 12 more Ivy League titles, reached 10 additional NCAA tournaments, and won two NIT titles. Beyond the numbers, Carril’s genius led to two of the most memorable games in NCAA tournament history. The first, in 1989, was the closest a No. 16 seed has ever come to beating a No. 1 seed. That matchup pitted Carril against another future Hall of Fame coach, John Thompson Jr. The Tigers back-doored their way to an eight-point lead on the Hoyas at halftime, but could not do enough to contain Alonzo Mourning (CAS ’92) down the stretch. Georgetown narrowly escaped with a 50-49 victory. “That game was one of the – at one point in my life, I said it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. At this point, I can say it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve gone through, just because you want both sides to win,” says Thompson III, a Princeton alumnus who was not yet coaching at the time. “You don’t want either side to lose.” Seven years later, the Princeton offense would not be denied its signature victory. With less than six seconds to go against defending champion and No. 4 seed UCLA, Steve Goodrich, standing just to the right of the free-throw line, found freshman Gabe Lewullis making a textbook cut along the baseline. A pinpoint-accurate bounce-pass and easy lay-in off the glass later, and Princeton – and its vaunted offense – had its most memorable win of all time. PETER CARRIL KNEW just what to say to get John Thompson III to forgo the opportunity to play for his father at Georgetown and instead join Princeton’s Class of 1988. “You go through the recruiting process and you are used to everyone telling you how great you are,” Thompson said in March 2006 before the Hoyas faced off against Florida in the Sweet 16. “I go up to Princeton on a recruiting visit, and Coach Carril sets me down, and for a half hour tells me how bad I am, and what I need to work on _d if I don’t, I am going to be on JV.” Ironically, it was Carril’s similarities to Thompson’s father, not his differences, which ultimately won over the 6-foot-3 guard/forward from Gonzaga College High School. “I walked away from that knowing he is just like my Pops, and so that’s why I went to Princeton,” Thompson said. “The opportunity to go to that institution, to play for Coach Carril is why I went there.” That is not to say, however, that his transition to Princeton was an easy one. “Coach – and I’ve said this to him – I hated Coach Carril as a freshman and maybe part of my sophomore year,” Thompson says. “And then I grew up and realized I was immature and had a lot to learn. People talk about Pops – Coach Carril was much more brutal than my dad ever was.” aturity may have helped Thompson to warm up to Carril’s caustic nature, but it was his abilities that allowed him to thrive in the Princeton offense. “He was good,” Carril says of Thompson. “He could pass the ball – always saw things two or three plays ahead. I couldn’t teach that if I lived to be 102. That’s DNA. That’s genetics.” Using that ability to see the whole court, Thompson climbed to third on the Tigers’ all-time assists list, totaling 358 over his four-year career, playing mostly forward. As a senior, on his way to earning a share of the team’s MVP award, he amassed 103 assists against just 34 turnovers. After a brief foray into the marketing industry, Thompson returned to his alma mater in 1995 to serve as an assistant coach under Carril. Carril left one season later to take a job as an assistant coach of the Sacramento Kings, but Thompson continued to serve under Bill Carmody until 2000, when he assumed the head-coaching reigns. As the helmsman, Thompson continued to employ the offense for which Princeton was famous and that had become almost second nature. His teams won at least a share of the Ivy League in three of his four seasons, making the NCAA tournament twice. But then Georgetown came calling. After grappling with a tough decision, Thompson chose – to paraphrase his words – to leave one home to return to another. And with that, the line began to blur. What became famous as the Princeton offense was on its way to becoming the Georgetown offense. IN THE TITLE segment of his book “The Smart Take From the Strong,” Carril explains that in sports and in life, stronger individuals have an advantage over weaker ones, but in the end, it is the smart that have the ultimate advantage. The implication is that Carril’s Princeton teams used their intelligence to hang with, and often defeat, stronger opponents. The Princeton offense, in its most basic form, is based on this concept. And there may be no better place to apply this concept than at Georgetown, where the athletes are both exceptionally talented and intelligent. Since arriving on the Hilltop, Thompson has synthesized his mentor’s intelligent style of play with Big East-quality talent, bringing about a meteoric rise for the Georgetown program. For Thompson, putting his system in place back in the autumn of 2004 was natural. “What was it like? It was not a big experience,” Thompson said before Georgetown’s 2007 Sweet 16 date with Vanderbilt. “We are an extremely willing group. . It’s playing basketball so it’s not a question of buying in to what we do. It’s a guy who puts guys in positions to have some success, to do things on the floor, to be able to grow and improve in every aspect of the game: dribbling, passing and shooting. It’s not more complicated than that.” Indeed, over the past three seasons, Thompson has both instituted one of the finest examples of the Princeton-style offense and rebuffed just about every myth that exists about it. Anyone who watched Georgetown upset No. 1 Duke on Jan. 21, 2006, knows that Thompson isn’t afraid to use the backdoor cut to expose an aggressive man-to-man defense. Duke’s Tobacco Road neighbor UNC, which fell to the Hoyas in overtime in the Elite Eight in March, probably has a thing or two to say about that as well. The offensive efficiency that characterized Carril’s Princeton teams? The Hoyas have placed 36th, ninth and second in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating in Thompson’s first three seasons on the Hilltop. How about high field goal percentages? Georgetown finished third in the nation last year with a 50.6 percent field goal percentage. Beyond the statistics, images of John Wallace making a sharp cut down the lane and receiving a crisp bounce-pass from Jeff Green are among the most indelible of Thompson’s brief tenure. Against Vanderbilt, down a point with time running out, what play did Thompson draw up in the huddle? The exact same one the Tigers used to defeat UCLA 11 years prior, with Patrick Ewing Jr. playing the role of Lewullis. Of course, the play broke down and Green’s one-man heroics are now history, but the original design is telling. After three years, it is not unrealistic to think that Georgetown’s current machination of the Princeton offense could one day supplant the original version as the most famous. Using the system at the high Division I level allows for it to gain far more notoriety than it ever did in the Ivy League. Yet Thompson and his team are simultaneously dispelling every Princeton offense fable that exists. First, the obvious. A Princeton-style team can’t make the Final Four? Pshaw. “Making it to the Final Four – that’s the first I think Princeton-style offense ever to make it to the Final Four, so I think it can be done,” senior center Roy Hibbert says. In fact, some experts around the country feel that Thompson’s offense is precisely what may one day lead the Hoyas to a title. “I don’t think this offense precludes Georgetown from winning a national title by any means,” says ESPN college basketball writer Pat Forde. “You have to be able to score to win titles – the old saw about defense winning championships is slightly dated and overrated in college basketball – but offensive efficiency is most important. And Georgetown has that. Remember, Florida slowed down to finally win a title. Running around a lot is entertaining and can certainly be effective, but it doesn’t guarantee success at the highest level.” In debunking one, Forde raises another Princeton offense misconception: that it does not involve running. According to Thompson, it does, just not in the way most people think. “You’ve got that fancy word `the Princeton offense.’ We run more than any team in the country – when we cross half court. There is not a team in the country that runs more than we do. Trust me on that.” While Georgetown usually uses most of its allotted 35 seconds, the many cuts required over the course of each possession force the Hoyas to run just as much or more than other teams. Closely tied to the issue of running is the aesthetic element of the game. Namely, is it fun to watch? Carril’s got an answer to that one. “[Some people say] it’s dull,” he says. “That kind of thing – that it’s boring. But if your main interest is to win, it’s not boring. If you like winning, it’s not boring.” Echoes Thompson: “I wanna win games. I’ll crawl if we can win or we’ll go 100 miles per hour. I want to put this group in position to win.” There’s also the one that says the Princeton offense stifles individual greatness. Mr. Green? “I think this offense allows you to show your versatility, it allows you to play different positions,” Green said before Georgetown faced off with Ohio State in the Final Four. “It makes you handle the ball. I think that’s one thing that can help me down the road in my career playing basketball. That’s why I love this offense so much because it allows you to get better at things that you need to ’cause you don’t want to be just a player, especially in my position, who is only known for just being in the low post.” Green came to Georgetown as a center, but because of the Princeton style’s de-emphasis of traditional positional roles (and Hibbert’s 7-foot-2 stature), he was forced to adapt to the perimeter. All he did was parlay his inside-outside versatility into the No. 5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (and the millions of dollars that came with it). “JT III could have probably succeeded running anything that featured Jeff Green,” Forde says. “But, Green was well-suited for the Princeton/Georgetown offense, and it’s a very difficult attack to prepare for and stop.” What’s more, Green’s individual success in a team-oriented system has not been missed by recruits countrywide. Visualizing himself as a Green-type player, the nation’s top high school player, 6-foot-10 Greg Monroe, committed to play for Georgetown last month. “I was comfortable with the style of play,” Monroe told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Similarly, Hibbert’s role has deviated from that of the traditional Princeton center. While Carril’s teams often featured smaller, more mobile centers who were as or more adept on the perimeter than they were on the block, Thompson has had both the luxury and the task of fitting a true center into his scheme. At 7-foot-2, Hibbert is a prototypical center and thrives on the block, but he also possesses a passing ability rarely found in such big men. “It was really difficult at first because obviously in high school, [at] 7-[foot]-2, I just sat in the block,” Hibbert says. “I went from one block to the next block not really moving that much, and with this offense you know I have to run up and down on the court and set screens on the perimeter and do a lot of stuff. . I did a lot of stuff that I never thought I’d have to do.” Now, Hibbert says, he’s adjusted. “I’m a traditional center that does little things too,” he says, “so I like to sit in the post at some times and bang down low, and I work on a different array of moves.” To Thompson, Hibbert’s divergence from the point-center model established at Princeton is irrelevant. More than anything else, Thompson stresses that the Princeton offense is a philosophy, a loosely defined system, and not a strict set of rules that must be followed to a tee. “The role varies and adjusts and adapts relative to the strength of the person in the position, relative to the strengths of the five individuals on the floor, relative to the strengths of the 13 players on the team,” Thompson says. “There is no set thing that the Princeton offense is other than teamwork and sharing and having an unselfish team.” On a more macro level, though, Thompson and his 72-30 record has proven once and for all that the biggest criticism, that the Princeton offense can’t work at Georgetown, is bunk. “I’ve never believed that. I never thought that that was true. You just have to look around. You see the influence that Coach Carril had when he went to the pros. You look at all the active pro teams that are running bits and pieces, some semblance of what we do here,” Thompson says. “If it can work there, it’s just playing basketball. You’ve heard me say this: Too much is made of it. I’m not trying to push away from it, but we’re just playing basketball here. Having five guys on the floor that want to play together.” Thompson alludes to a number of professional teams that run pieces of the Princeton system. The Wizards and Nets have done so for several years now, and the Houston Rockets, under new Head Coach Rick Adelman, are just this preseason putting it in place. Adelman coached in Sacramento from 1998-2006, where he was assisted by Carril. “You can look at what the Wizards do,” Thompson says. “You can look at what the Nets do. Look at what the Kings do, you can keep going. But it’s just getting five unselfish guys that want to play together.” Indeed, Thompson’s underlying theme is team play. More than anything else, it is unselfishness that characterizes the Princeton system. “If you go back and look at tapes from our first year here, the way we did things was dramatically different from the way we did things the second year, and then if you look at the way we did things last year relative to the first year, its much different.” Thompson says. “So the way we play is always changing depending on personnel, depending on our strengths, depending on our weaknesses, depending on how this group is going to come together to put us in position to win games.” IN MARCH IN the Meadowlands, when all was said and done and the Hoyas had defeated the mighty Tar Heels to earn a spot in their first Final Four since 1985, John Thompson III quickly sought out two people. One was his father. The other was Pete Carril. Thompson has been fortunate enough to have two coaches in his life. He has, of course, his father, the man who first introduced him to the game of basketball. The man whose knee he sat on to watch game tapes as a little boy. The father who allowed his son to sit behind the bench for all the big games. The man he simply refers to as “Pops.” But he also has the man who will always be “Coach.” In many ways, it is Carril more so than Thompson Jr. that follows this Georgetown team wherever it goes. “Coach is such a part of my consciousness, you know. I said there’s not too many decisions on the floor and off the floor where I don’t have Coach’s voice in my head,” Thompson said following the UNC game. “You talk about the Princeton offense. You talk about Pete Carrill, that’s who you’re talking about. He’s taught me how to think and how to see the game. So he’s, you know – we’re in constant contact. In many ways, he is a part of what we’re doing.” – HOYA Staff Writers Harlan Goode and Olivia Scott contributed reporting from New York. HOYA Staff Writer Emily Liner and former Staff Writer Brenna McGee also contributed to this report. *Left Photo: Courtesy Princeton Athletic Communications *Right Photo: File Photo: Andreas Jeninga/The Hoya

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