Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril dies at 92

Pete Carril, who coached basketball at Princeton for 29 years and scared off big-name opponents with his undersized and often underqualified college students playing an old-fashioned textbook game, died Monday. He was 92 years old.

His family announces the death in a report published on the Princeton Tigers website. He did not say where he died or give the cause of death.

As the men’s head coach from 1967 to 1996, Carril (pronounced care-ILL) taught a thinking man’s basketball at Princeton. As a member of the Ivy League, Princeton could not offer athletic scholarships and its academic standards were high, but Carril’s teams, almost invariably outmatched and outmatched, still won twice as often as they lost.

His record at Princeton was 514-261, with 13 Ivy titles, 11 appearances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Tournament, two in the National Invitation Tournament (his team won in 1975), and only one losing season. Fourteen of his Princeton teams led the nation in defense. In 1997, he was elected to Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

He emphasized deliberate off-the-ball offense that allowed players to pass the ball and set up screens until a shooter was open or someone broke free into the basket in a play. patented backdoor. The scores were low and no matter how hard the opponents prepared, they got frustrated and often lost their temper.

“Playing at Princeton is a lot like going to the dentist,” said North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano. died in 1993 at 47 years old. “You know that on the road it can make you better, but while it’s happening it can be very, very painful.”

New York Times sportswriter Bill Pennington wrote, “The less sophisticated basketball fan could admire and understand a Pete Carril team at first glance. The most dedicated hoops junkie might be spellbound by a team of Pete Carril on the move. It wasn’t talent basketball, it was team basketball. It might not be the way everyone should play, but it was the way everyone was trying to play. »

In the annual NCAA Tournament, Carril’s teams could lose to the national powers, but not before pissing them off and threatening them with an upset. In the first round alone, Princeton lost to Georgetown 50-49 in 1989, Arkansas 68-64 in 1990 and Villanova 50-48 in 1991.

Carril’s latest college victory came on March 14, 1996, in Indianapolis, in the first round of the NCAA tournament against UCLA, the defending champion. Thirteenth-seeded Princeton, 7 points adrift with six minutes remaining, scored on – what else? — a backdoor with 3.9 seconds remaining and won. The next day, The Daily Princetonianthe student newspaper, published this headline on page 1:

“David 43, Goliath 41.”

Carril said he was under no illusions: “If we played UCLA 100 times, they would win 99 times.” (The Tigers went on to defeat, 63-41, in the second round against Mississippi State.)

Around the Princeton campus, he was a revered, raspy-voiced figure dressed in a worn sweater and baggy khaki (or, when dressed formally, a bow tie). A colleague once described him as “a crumpled Lilliputian who would look as out of place in an Armani suit as in a Vera Wang dress.” And during matches, he was known for his spirited coaching style.

Every year, during his first training session, Carril made the same speech in front of his players.

“I know your academic load,” he said. “I know how hard it is to waste time playing here, but let’s be clear on one thing. In my book, there is no Ivy League player. When you walk out of that locker room and cross that white line, you’re basketball players, period.

But he also told his players:

“Princeton is a special place with very special teachers. It is something special to be taught by one of them. But you’re not special just because you go here.

Pedro José (later known as Peter Joseph) Carril was born on July 10, 1930 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His father, a Spanish immigrant, worked for 40 years in the blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel and never missed a day’s work, his son says.

In Bethlehem High School, Pete was an all-state basketball player, and in Lafayette, where he played for Butch van Breda Kolff, he was a small All-American. Then, for 12 years, he coached high school basketball in Pennsylvania while earning a master’s degree in education from Lehigh University in 1959.

In the 1966-67 season, he coached Lehigh to an 11-12 record. Then van Breda Kolff, who was coaching Princeton, left to coach the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. Princeton considered Bobby Knight and Larry Brown to be successors. Instead, it took Carril.

He left college coaching after the 1995–96 season.

“I’ve been dodging bullets for 30 years,” Carril said. “I find that I don’t see as much. I used to think that kids thought my training was worth five points a game to them. Maybe it was, but I feel like they don’t feel that anymore. I think I make less of a difference.

The following year, he became an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings of the NBA under Coach Rick Adelman, spending most of his time breaking down game tapes. He remained with the team for most of the next decade, retiring in 2006, but three years later, aged 78, joined the Kings as a consultant.

“Being an assistant doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “The aggravation and the stomach pain and the headaches that you get when you see things done wrong or when you lose, or all those problems that you have as a head coach, I had enough.”

With Dan White he wrote “The Smart Take From the Strong: The Basketball Philosophy of Pete Carril” (1997). His coaching methods have even been the subject of an academic paper by a Fordham University marketing professor, Francis Petit, titled “What Executives Can Learn From Pete Carril.”

Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

But he will be remembered, even if none of his teams won the ultimate honour. He brushed that off too.

“Winning a national championship is not something you’re going to see us do at Princeton,” he said of his final years there. “I resigned myself to this years ago. What does that mean anyway? When I’m dead, maybe two guys will pass by my grave, and one will say to the other, ‘Poor guy. I have never won a national championship. And I won’t hear a word they say.

Frank Litsky, longtime sports columnist for The Times, died in 2018. William McDonald contributed reporting.

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