Sydney Johnson ’97, head coach of the Ivy League champion men’s basketball team, resigned from Princeton April 4 to become the coach at Fairfield University. A national search for his successor is underway, according to a statement by Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67.
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.
When Gabe Lewullis ’99 has a rare block of free time during his sports medicine fellowship at New England Baptist Hospital, he often heads to the Harvard Business School gymnasium. Over the years, a group of former Ivy League basketball players who now work in Boston have established an invitation-only pick-up game at the breeding ground of Wall Street’s next top draft picks. Lewullis received his introduction to the game from Matt Henshon ’91, a practicing lawyer and captain of Princeton’s 1991 men’s basketball team.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and Princeton trailing, 62-61, in its Ivy League playoff game against Harvard, Douglas Davis ’12 had a chance to be the hero. He drove toward the middle of the lane, detoured right, and pushed forward for a layup attempt, drawing contact and falling to the ground. Harvard’s Kyle Casey blocked the ball out of bounds, and no foul was called.
‘Time’ links Ben Folds to Princeton’s Nassoons
When acclaimed singer-songwriter Ben Folds asks you to perform “Girl from Ipanema,” off the cusp, in front of a full house at Princeton’s McCarter Theater, you do it. So learned the Nassoons, Princeton’s oldest all-male a cappella group, while opening for Folds at his Feb. 11 concert.
The Nassoons first linked up with Folds in early December after Princeton’s Jonathan Schwartz ’10’s a cappella arrangement of Folds’ song “Time” won the group the chance to record on Folds’ upcoming a cappella album. Folds packed a skeleton crew and his own equipment into the Mathey College common room, where he recorded with the Nassoons for several hours.
“He was extraordinarily down to earth, and we had a blast with him,” said senior Nassoons member Brian Gurewitz. Before Folds left, the Nassoons joined him for a casual sing-a-long at the piano, where he took requests for their favorites of his songs.
The group gathered for extra rehearsals in the weeks leading up to Folds’ concert in Princeton, ensuring that their voices would be in good shape when they opened the show with Schwartz’s arrangement of “Time.” After the Nassoons finished their performance, the headliner asked them to sing one more song. He’d enjoyed their version of “Girl from Ipanema” during the recording session in December.
“We weren’t as prepared for that, but there certainly was a lot to be said for the spontaneity of the moment,” Gurewitz said.
The Nassoons chatted with Folds onstage and off, apparently not too fazed by his stardom. “Meeting Ben wasn’t unlike meeting a new friendly roommate,” Gurewitz said, “but it only took a short time to realize that despite his laid-back demeanor, he exudes talent. Ben seems genuinely interested in both the culture and style of collegiate a cappella music. I have a feeling he would have loved being in the Nassoons in college!” By Sarah Harrison ’09
Bonus: Watch the Nassoons perform Ben Folds’ “Time” in a fall 2008 music video.
Carril gets top billing on Jadwin floor
On Feb. 21, Princeton will honor former men’s basketball coach Pete Carril (at right, on PAW’s April 3, 1996, cover) by renaming the game court at Jadwin Gym “Carril Court.” Carril coached the Tigers for 29 seasons, winning 13 Ivy League titles and becoming one of the most beloved figures in Princeton sports history. His career concluded in 1995-96, the year that Princeton topped Penn in a one-game Ivy playoff and shocked UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
By the time that ’96 Princeton squad beat the defending-champion Bruins, Carril had “become known as the gruff Professor Almost,” in the words of Alexander Wolff ’79. His teams had suffered postseason near-misses against Georgetown, Arkansas, and Villanova. But, as Wolff noted in a 1996 PAW story, that view overlooked Princeton’s 1975 NIT Championship as well as regular-season defeats of highly ranked opponents: North Carolina (in 1971), Florida State (in ’72), Alabama (in ’75), and Notre Dame (in ’77). Carril’s Tigers also knocked Oklahoma State out of the NCAA Tournament’s first round in 1983.
Carril was inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997, and his legacy continues through the work of protégés coaching in college and the pros, including 10 alumni (see below).
Not far from the tree
Ten Princeton alumni who played for Pete Carril currently coach professional or Division-I college teams. They are (top row, left to right) David Blatt ’81, head coach, Dynamo Moscow and the Russian national team; Mike Brennan ’94, assistant coach, American University; Brian Earl ’99, assistant coach, Princeton; Mitch Henderson ’98, assistant coach, Northwestern University; Armond Hill ’85, assistant coach, Boston Celtics; (bottom row, left to right) Sydney Johnson ’97, head coach, Princeton; Chris Mooney ’94, head coach, University of Richmond; Craig Robinson ’83, head coach, Oregon State University; Joe Scott ’87, head coach, Denver University; and John Thompson III ’88, head coach, Georgetown University.
Carril’s basketball connections also include Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, a longtime assistant who succeeded Carril at Princeton; Sacramento Kings general manager Geoff Petrie ’70; Mercer County (N.J.) Community College head coach Howard Levy ’85; and Gary Walters ’67, the Princeton director of athletics, who played for Carril at Reading (Pa.) High School and later assisted him on the sidelines.
A heartfelt translation, nine years in the making
In 1998 when Herbert Jordan ’60 visited his daughter at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, he picked up her copy of a translation of the Iliad. He read the first page and “it electrified me,” he says. So he got his own copy and read every translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey he could find. A year later, tragedy struck when his only son died in a car crash at 16. At the urging of a friend, he began to teach himself to read Homer in the original Greek, as a way, he says, “to channel grief.” He spent a couple years learning the language, spending four to six hours a day on the task.
As he began to learn the language and read the Iliad, says Jordan, “I felt that I could relate to the spirit of the original better than any of the translators I read.” And he sensed “I was there, by the ships on the beach below Troy,” says Jordan, who has had a wide-ranging career as an attorney, CEO of a window and door manufacturing business, and founder of a maple syrup production business and a charitable legal service. He tried his hand at translating the epic poem of gods and warriors, line by line, into English blank verse. The hardest part, he says, was “learning to deal with Greek irregular verbs.” Along the way he had some help from Henry Taylor, a Pulitzer-prize winning poet, who went over his drafts, coaching him on diction and tone. When he started the translation, Jordan had no intention of publishing it. But University of Oklahoma Press was impressed and last October published it. A reviewer from Bryn Mawr Classical Review called Jordan’s translation “remarkably lively and poetic” and a “very easy, vivid read.”
Even though it took nine years in all to complete the Iliad, Jordan is already at work on his next project: translating the Odyssey. By Katherine Federici Greenwood
(Photo courtesy Herbert Jordan)
Men’s and women’s basketball: Previewing the Ivies
The Princeton men’s and women’s basketball teams each entered the two-and-a-half-week exam break on winning streaks — streaks they hope to continue when the Ivy League tips off the heart of its schedule Jan. 30.
The men were picked to finish last in a preseason poll of Ivy media, and with a 5-8 record in non-league games, the Tigers still have much to prove. But a solid win over Lehigh Jan. 7 gave Princeton a confidence boost. Only two Ivy teams have winning records outside the league: Cornell (10-6 in non-Ivy games), the defending champion and Ivy favorite, and Harvard (8-6 non-Ivy), which notched an impressive upset win at Boston College Jan. 7. Yale topped Brown in its first two Ivy contests and could join Cornell and Harvard as a league title contender.
When Princeton faces Dartmouth Jan. 30, the starting lineup likely will include three
four players who have never started an Ivy game: freshman Doug Davis, sophomore s Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides, and junior Pawel Buczak. Coach Sydney Johnson ’97 said that stressing defense could help the Tigers overcome inexperience. “We need to get stops in the winning moments, and then the offense will come,” he said in early January. “If you look at us at this point, compared to last year, clearly we’re defending better.”
On the women’s side, perennial Ivy powers Dartmouth and Harvard look strong again, but the big two expect challenges from Cornell, which shared the league title with the Big Green and Crimson last year, and Columbia, led by sophomore Judie Lomax, a talented transfer from Oregon State who has averaged 13.8 points and 13.6 rebounds per game this year. Beginning Jan. 30, the Princeton women (6-9 overall) will play all four of those top teams in a nine-day span — a major challenge for coach Courtney Banghart’s young squad, which won its Ivy opener against Penn Jan. 10.
Whitney Downs ’09, Addie Micir ’11, and Lauren Edwards ’12 have led the way for the young Tigers so far this season. In the Ivy’s midseason media conference call, Banghart said she was thrilled with her team’s energy and hunger, but a little concerned about how her team would react to the Ivy League’s intense Friday-Saturday schedule. Said Banghart: “I don’t think you can understand the back-to-back and the battle of tournament play every weekend until you’ve actually lived through it.”
Names in the news
Karen Smyers ’83, one of five inductees included in the first class of the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame, talked about overcoming challenges in her career. [Endurance Planet]
Lisa Jackson *86, President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, was a “master juggler” as an official in New Jersey. [The New York Times]
International Rescue Committee president George Rupp ’64 helped celebrate the 75th anniversary of the group’s founding. [Miami Herald]
Don Oberdorfer ’52 discussed America’s diplomacy with North Korea and the status of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-Il. [The New York Times]
The American Plan, a 1990 play written by Richard Greenberg ’80, returned to Broadway in a well-received revival. [The New York Times]