In a program with as much tradition as Princeton men’s basketball, it’s hard to break new ground. But this week, Sydney Johnson ’97 found a unique spot in Tiger history: He became the first person to lead Princeton to the NCAA Tournament both as a player and a head coach. Johnson’s team, the Ivy League co-champion, earned an NCAA bid with a dramatic 63-62 playoff win over Harvard March 12.
Johnson, a captain of two NCAA Tournament teams in his undergraduate days, started coaching in 2004, after playing professionally in Europe. As an assistant to John Thompson III ’88 at Georgetown, he helped the Hoyas reach the Final Four in 2007. Three weeks later, he returned to Princeton as the Tigers’ head coach. Following a subpar first season, his teams have shown steady progress, increasing their win totals and climbing in the Ivy standings. This year, Princeton was 24-6 in the regular season and 12-2 in league play.
The Tigers, who play Kentucky March 17, have been the talk of the town since Douglas Davis ’12 hit his game-winning jump shot at the buzzer Saturday night. More than a thousand Princeton fans, including hundreds of students, made the trip to New Haven to see the game. Johnson, who witnessed the same type of excitement as a player, could not be happier for his team. “That’s really all I ever wanted since coming here – for these guys to make their own history,” he said.
Two other Princeton alumni will lead teams in the NCAA Tournament this week: Thompson is making his fifth appearance in seven years at Georgetown, and Chris Mooney ’94 returns with Richmond for the second consecutive season.
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