Princeton University is an institution self-consciously steeped in tradition, sometimes to an extent that even relatively recent innovations can feel like they’ve been going on for centuries. Yet it has also tried to break free of traditions that have not served it well, like discriminatory admissions policies. Holding these things in tension with one another is at times difficult. Today, we look back at a prior generation’s reflections on what it meant to get caught in the middle between tradition and transformation.
On December 12, 1985, Pat Thompson and Sean O’Sullivan considered the awkward position of Black athletes on campus for the Daily Princetonian’s “Thursday Magazine” feature. They interviewed four athletes: John Thompson ’88, Butch Climmons ’86, Jim Anderson ’86, and Debbi Saint Phard ’87. In opening a conversation about race on campus through the lens of Black athletes, they brought attention to some of the ongoing problems Princeton faced regarding systemic racism, though this was not a term they used. However, not everyone who entered the discussion thought about racism as part of a system, rather than a flaw within individuals.
Princeton University’s varsity football team, September 1985. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 165.
In honor of the first men’s basketball home game tonight, we pay homage to one of the Tiger court’s greatest. It was big news when Brian Taylor ‘84 (originally Class of 1973) chose to play basketball for Princeton University. It was bigger news when he became the first Princeton player, and one of the first college players ever, to leave early for the pros three years later.
Criticized heavily for the move, the 6-foot-3 guard went on to play 10 years in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association before returning to Princeton to finish his degree. He then started working in business before moving into education as a teacher and administrator. Continue reading →
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a drawing is held for room assignments in a new dorm, the basketball team plays its first game ever, and more.
January 23, 1767—Jonathan Baldwin secures an affidavit from Job Stockton to defend himself against accusations that he has defrauded the College of New Jersey of about 30 pounds of mutton. “Tho’ I have been employed ten years in buying and providing for the college, this is the first instance, in which I have been charged with this surprising facility, in being imposed upon in my bargains,” Baldwin writes.
January 24, 1898—Students participate in a drawing to secure lodging in the newly-built Blair Hall. Rents range from $200-$300 per year including meals.
Blair Hall, ca. 1897. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP04, Image No. 69.
In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the women’s swimming team sets three national records, Jimmy Carter surprises students with an early morning walk on campus, and more.
March 16, 1967—David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, speaks informally with students and invited guests at the Woodrow Wilson School.
On March 17, 1989, in the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Princeton University, seeded #16, faced national powerhouse Georgetown University, seeded #1 in the East Region. It was a classic David versus Goliath matchup. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a #16 seed has never defeated a #1 seed. There have been some close calls, but none closer than Georgetown’s narrow one point victory over Princeton.
The video below features four segments from the game. At the beginning of the broadcast (0.04), Dick Vitale, noted college basketball commentator and analyst, and John Saunders discuss the game. Vitale promises to don a Princeton cheerleader outfit if Princeton can beat Georgetown. He, like so many others, gave the Tigers little chance against the bigger, faster, and stronger Hoyas. Princeton took the floor as twenty-three point underdogs.
The starting line ups are presented in the second segment (0:28), and viewers can watch the first six minutes of the game (from 3:58), and see the final three minutes of play (from 12:03), including Vitale’s reaction to Princeton’s performance and near victory.
Georgetown, under head coach John Thompson, entered the tournament ranked #2 in the country and had recently won the Big East Conference title. They had a 26-4 pre-tournament record, and the team was loaded with talent, including freshman star and future NBA player Alonzo Mourning and senior captain Charles Smith, the Big East Player of the Year. Many predicted them to win the tournament.
Princeton, led by their famously colorful coach Pete Carril (left), was 19-8 overall, and as Ivy League champions had earned an automatic bid to the national tournament. They were a young team, with only one junior, Matt Lapin, and one senior, Ivy League Player of the Year and captain Bob Scrabis, on the roster. But, this was also a Princeton team that led the nation in defense, allowing only 53 points per game.
How could Princeton stay with Georgetown and keep the game close? The “Princeton Offense,” the hallmark of Carril’s coaching style, slowed down the Hoyas and forced an entirely different style of play. The “Princeton Offense” spread the floor, utilizing a three guard set, and made the contest a half court game. Clock management and patience were key.
In those days the shot clock was 45 seconds, and it was quite typical for Princeton to run the clock down for 30 seconds before they even began their offensive set. With constant ball movement and passing, the guards looked for players moving toward the basket, especially by back door cuts, which led to easy lay ups.
This style of play stymied Georgetown throughout the first half, and Princeton’s confidence seemed to grow with each basket. They picked up rebounds, scrambled for loose balls, limited turnovers, and generally frustrated the Hoyas. At half time, Princeton led 29-21, and there was a noticeable buzz of excitement in the arena.