Ask most basketball fans what Princeton coach Pete Carril’s greatest idea was and the answer will be the Princeton offense.
It’s true that the slow-down offense, featuring lots of movement without the ball and backdoor layups brought fame to Princeton and Carril, who between 1967 and 1996 compiled a 514-261 record, the best record of any Ivy league coach, culminating in an upset of defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1996. The Daily Princetonian’s headline the next day was simply David 43, Goliath 41.
But beyond the the Xs and Os of basketball strategy, Carril brought some other ideas to the game. Carril, who grew up in a Spanish community in Bethlehem, PA., where his father worked at Bethlehem Steel, had different values and life experiences than many of his Ivy League players. Carril’s other bright idea may have been to address those differences directly:
“It is characteristic of an intelligent person that he does not jump into something without first examining the options. Here in Jadwin Gym, you cannot intellectualize, you cannot examine 50 alternatives, you cannot resort to committees and subcommittees. You cannot tell me this is a good idea, or how to win a game. You got to Princeton because you learned to use your head, but using your head is only half of life. The heart, the emotions are something else. If you could solve all your problems by using your head, that’s one thing, but you can only solve math problems that way,” the coach was quoted as saying in Dan White’s definitive 1978 biography, “Play to Win.”
“Here you have to be ready to share. You have to worry less about yourselves and more about the team. In a team sport like basketball, every time you help somebody else, you help yourself. What an incredible irony. You can have no hang-ups about points. Each has to understand what contribution each can make, when to shoot, when not to shoot. As a team, your courses of action are now more limited because you belong to a team. There is no degree of passing the ball, no degree of winning. You either win or you fail.”