Carril's style grows on you ever so slowly

Ken Rosenthal

January 03, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

Bring a book. Bring two books. Princeton, college basketball's answer to the Chinese Water Torture, descends on Loyola tomorrow. Pass, pass, pass. Drip, drip, drip. Back-door layup. Two points.

Bring a Walkman. Bring a Gameboy. Anything to kill time as the 45-second clock ticks away. Pass, pass, pass. Drip, drip, drip. A 25-foot jumper off a pick. Good for three.

"All these people in Baltimore are going nuts over this game," Loyola coach Tom Schneider said. "But other than the purists who want to see every cut and every pass, the average guy will say, 'What's so great about these guys?'

"You're not going to see a whole lot of dunks or a whole lot of fastbreaks. You'll see a lot of shots go in -- but they'll be few and far between."

So, what's so great about these guys?

They're too slow. They're too small. They're Ivy League nerds. Yet year after year they drive opponents not only to delirium, but defeat. "They play on the human frailties," Schneider said. "Impatience. Desire. Greed."

The architect of all this scoffs at such theory, as one might expect from a rumpled guy coaching at one of the world's elite universities after growing up in blue-collar Bethlehem, Pa.

Pete Carril, 60, wears plain sweaters rather than tweed jackets, speaks with an earthy rasp rather than a haughty lisp. In his own way, he's as much of an anachronism as his team. The difference is, he's more fun to watch.

Ivy League fans chant "Boorrr-ing!" every Princeton possession, "Sit down Pete!" all other times. Carril stalks the sideline with a program rolled up in one hand, all frenzied and disheveled, looking as if he's about to cry.

It's a great act, and one Carril pursues with just as much vigor off the court, talking up opponents, fretting that he can't attract players, dismissing the fuss surrounding his team.

Somehow, Princeton nearly upset Georgetown, Arkansas and Villanova in the past three NCAA tournaments. Somehow, it scored overtime victories over North Carolina State and La Salle in its two most recent games.

That's not to diminish the difficulty Carril faces recruiting. Princeton costs approximately $25,000 per year, and Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships, granting financial aid only to those in need.

Thus, only the very rich and very poor can afford Princeton -- and most of the poor lack the academic background necessary for admission. The lowest SAT score among Carril's players is 1,175. That's nearly 500 points above the Prop 48 minimum.

Carril gets hit every which way, even by trends from which he is seemingly immune. The two-income family is his latest source of anxiety. It disqualifies even more players from financial aid, forcing them to accept scholarships at places like Stanford and Duke.

Somehow, Princeton went 24-3 last season, its best record in Carril's 25 years. Somehow, it's 7-3 this season after the graduation of center Kit Meuller, the school's second all-time leading scorer.

It all comes back to the system, which is so efficient that Princeton once won without a coach at Virginia. This was in 1975. Carril was ejected with 19:34 left. Both assistants were on the road recruiting. Only a Japanese doctor remained on the bench.

"I looked at the clock and said, 'What did I do now?' " Carril recalled. "It was the thrill of a lifetime. When you get to that point where they can play without a coach, it means they know how to play."

They know how to play, all right. Pass, pass, pass. Drip, drip, drip. The Princeton media guide warns, "In Princeton's style, a dunk is as uncommon as a two-point jump shot." The constant motion yields either a layup or a three.

"For a full two hours sometimes we'll run a certain facet of the offense and nothing else," said Matt Eastwick, the senior forward from Gilman. "We'll repeat it 100 times if necessary."

Still, for all the attention placed on offense, Carril is more a defensive coach. Princeton has led the nation in scoring defense nine of the last 16 years, and this year is allowing only 50.8 points per game.

Loyola's Schneider knows every detail -- he was 0-2 against Carril at Lehigh, 4-4 against him at Penn. Today's practice, however, will be the only one devoted to Princeton. Loyola (3-5) lost 82-66 at Siena last night.

"If I had a couple of days, I'd probably get carried away, giving them everything I know from 10 years of coaching against them," Schneider said.

"They get you more worried about what they're doing than what you're doing. I have to get my guys to think about what we have to do. If we get caught up in looking at the black shirts with the orange 'Princeton,' we'll be in trouble."

Pass, pass, pass. Drip, drip, drip.

"You look at our tapes, and you find many times we shoot faster than the team we play," Carril protested.

Maybe, Pete, that's because you play great defense.

"What do you want us to do?" Carril asked. "Not play good defense? Accelerate the game?"

Bring a book. Bring two books.

Princeton's in town.

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