Tag Archives: Sydney Johnson

Johnson ’97 departs, search for new coach begins

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Sydney Johnson ’97 (Office of Athletic Communications)

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 four years with the Tigers, Johnson’s teams were 66-53 overall. He led a remarkable turnaround that culminated with three memorable games this March: a 70-58 win over Penn at the Palestra that clinched a share of the Ivy title; a 63-62 last-second victory against Harvard in the Ivy playoff game; and a 59-57 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
 
Walters thanked Johnson for his contributions in a press release. “Obviously we’re disappointed that he is not staying to carry on the tradition of Princeton basketball,” he said. “But as a Princeton basketball alumnus, we wish him well as he takes another career step.”
 
Since 29-year veteran Pete Carril retired in 1996, no Princeton men’s basketball coach has stayed with the program longer than four seasons. Bill Carmody (1996-2000) left for Northwestern, John Thompson III ’88 (2000-04) departed for Georgetown, and Joe Scott ’87 (2004-07) moved on to Denver.
 
Johnson, a three-year captain as an undergraduate, returned to Princeton after assisting Thompson at Georgetown for three seasons. His first Tiger team stumbled to a 6-23 record, but from that point forward, the program made a steady climb in the Ivy standings. In 2009-10, the Tigers finished 22-9 overall and 11-3 in Ivy games, placed second behind Cornell, and reached the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational. This season, Princeton finished 25-7 overall, 12-2 in Ivy play, and won all 12 of its games at Jadwin Gym.

Tiger of the Week: Sydney Johnson ’97

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(© Beverly Schaefer)

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.
 
Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

Princeton 43, UCLA 41: The game that never goes away

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(The Daily Princetonian Larry Dupraz Digital Archives)

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.

 
When Lewullis gets in a game, he inevitably drifts out to the right wing of the 3-point line while on offense. Once there, he pauses for a moment in hopes of catching his defender off guard. Then, he plants his left-leg and cuts sharply to the basket. If another Princeton graduate has the ball at the top of the key, he whisks a bounce pass to the cutting Lewullis, who will likely catch the ball in stride and lay it in the hoop for two easy points. Then Lewullis prepares for what always comes next. “When they see Princeton guys playing together,” he says, “if we beat them backdoor, you know you’re going to hear about it.”
 
For this, Lewullis has only himself to blame.
 
Fifteen years ago on a mid-March night in the basketball Mecca of Indianapolis, the freshman who had started just two games since December made the backdoor cut seen around the country. His subsequent layup clinched Princeton’s 43-41 win over the defending national champion UCLA Bruins in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament. It was victory No. 525 in the storied career of retiring Tiger head coach Pete Carril. For the gray-haired man sometimes called the Yoda of college hoops, it was also his first NCAA Tournament win in 13 years. In the decade leading up to the UCLA game, Carril had developed an unwanted reputation for wearing Cinderella’s slipper for 39 minutes, only to have it fall off on the doorstep of upset immortality.
 
The game also sparked a vast web of interconnected stories, memories and myths that continues to grow 15 years later. But none of it would have been possible, if not for a little-remembered game played the previous Saturday on the campus of Lehigh University.

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Davis ’12 hits winning shot, sends Princeton to NCAA Tournament

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Douglas Davis ’12 talks with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap after Princeton’s win over Harvard.

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.

 
“I was upset [about the no-call], but that’s part of the game,” Davis said. “You’ve got to keep moving.”
 
After a timeout, Davis had another chance, receiving an inbounds pass with 2.8 seconds left. He took two dribbles, faked, leaned away from the defender, and this time got the shot off, launching a 16-foot jumper that Tiger fans won’t soon forget.
 
“It felt good, it went in, and I fell on the ground,” Davis said. “That was the worst decision I made, because everybody jumped on me.”
 
The shot – and the crowd of Princeton students who descended on Davis to celebrate – capped an exciting, back-and-forth neutral site game at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium, played to decide which of the Ivy co-champs would represent the league in the NCAA Tournament. The gym was split in half between crimson and orange-and-black, the sides split neatly by the half-court line.
 
Harvard was attempting to earn its first NCAA bid in 65 years, and much of the pregame coverage focused on that fact. But for Princeton, a longtime Ivy power, the playoff paved the way for another kind of “first.”
 
“We’ve won 26 as a program, but this is the first time that these guys get to go to the NCAA Tournament,” head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 said. “It’s a very special moment for us.”
 
The game in detail
 
After a hectic opening stretch for both teams, Harvard began to settle into its offense and took a 13-8 lead when Brandyn Curry scored on a give-and-go pass from Keith Wright.
 
Princeton climbed back with an 8-0 run that started when Kareem Maddox ’11 made a bank-shot from the right side, drew a foul, and hit the free throw. Dan Mavraides ’11 followed with a steal and a fast break layup to tie the game. Mavraides then put Princeton ahead, 16-13, with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

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A cappella collaborators

‘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

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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).

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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.

Personal odyssey

i-ab9ee2f708974b65e3cd6d6c1fa1e0bc-jordan.jpgA 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, sophomores 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]