Pete Carril, Princeton Hall of Fame basketball coach, dies at 92

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Pete Carril, a Hall of Fame college basketball coach who developed a system of play known as the Princeton Offense, propelling his small Princeton teams to heroic performances against the NCAA Division I powers and shaping how the game is played from high school to national basketball. Association, died August 15 at a Philadelphia hospital. He was 92 years old.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said his grandson, Pete Carril.

As an Ivy League school, Princeton does not award athletic scholarships and for 29 seasons (1967-1968 to 1995-1996) Mr. Carril prepared future lawyers, professors, and government officials to take on teams packed with future Ivy League draft picks. NBA, especially during postseason tournament play.

Mr. Carril designed a half-court offense that required constant movement from all five players, with disciplined passing and quick cuts to the basket for open shots. The goal was to spread the floor, slow down the shot clock, and wear down defenders until they made a mistake, or a Princeton player broke free for a layup or jump shot.

“The most important thing is to hit a good shot every time you go down the court,” said Mr. Carril, (pronounced kuh-RILL), who was inspired by Bill Russell’s selfless Boston Celtics play in the 1960s. “If that’s old-fashioned, then I’m guilty.”

During Mr. Carril’s time at Princeton, his team won the National Invitation Tournament in 1975, won 13 Ivy League titles, earned 11 NCAA tournament berths, and ambushed basketball powerhouses like UCLA, Indiana, and Duke. He was the only Division I male coach to win more than 500 games (most of them against Ivy League teams) without the benefit of athletic scholarships, and in 1997 he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Memorial.

“We came into every game thinking we had an advantage no matter who we played, because we were incredibly well prepared,” Matt Eastwick, one of Carril’s former players, told the Go Princeton Tigers website in 2007. “Isn’t that right? Is that the mark of a great coach?

However, the most famous game Mr. Carril ran was one that Princeton lost.

In the first round of the 1989 NCAA tournament, his 16th-seeded Tigers played No. 1-seeded Georgetown, a team anchored by 6-foot-10 Alonzo Mourning and 7-foot-2 Dikembe Mutombo, both future members of the NBA Hall of Fame. .

To simulate their towering presences at practice, Mr. Carril told his assistants to raise brooms for his much smaller players to walk over. During pregame warmups, ESPN broadcaster Mike Gorman said that Princeton, a 23-point underdog with no players taller than 6-foot-8, looked like a high school team that had stumbled into the wrong gym.

But Princeton’s zone defense forced the Hoyas to settle for outside shots while the Tigers ran out the back door, with players running to the ball and then cutting behind their defenders to the basket to facilitate layups. At halftime, Princeton had a surprising eight-point lead. Georgetown rallied in the second half and won by a single point, 50-49, but the game was seen as vindication for small schools and changed the nature of the NCAA tournament.

Until then, first-round games were relegated to cable television. But the prospect of more David vs. Goliath helped persuade CBS to sign a seven-year, $1 billion contract with the NCAA to televise every game of the tournament, transforming college basketball’s March Madness into a cultural phenomenon to rival the Super Bowl.

Before the game, NCAA officials considered revoking automatic bids for weaker conferences because their teams were often beaten. Princeton’s fascinating near miss quashed those discussions and opened the door for future surprises from small fry like the state of Middle Tennessee, the Gulf Coast of Florida, northern Iowa and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. Sports Illustrated dubbed Princeton-Georgetown “The Game That Saved March Madness.”

Years later, Carril admitted that his goal had been much more modest. “We were trying not to embarrass ourselves,” he said.

With his gnome-like height, floppy ears, and shocks of unruly white hair, Carril drew comparisons to Yoda, the Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies. He prowled the sidelines with a game plan clenched in his fist, pleading with the players for him. Once, when his center cut the wrong way, the frustrated coach tore his own jersey in half.

“He was tough on the guys and tough on me, but he was rarely wrong,” Geoff Petrie, who played for Princeton in the late 1960s before joining the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, told the Los Angeles Times. “He made an amazing career as a coach basically outsmarting people.”

In the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, Mr. Carril outwitted defending national champions UCLA.

To deny the faster, stronger Bruins the counterattack, he ordered his players to fall back defensively and execute his deliberate small-ball attack, which one sportswriter compared to “water torture.” The game went all the way with Princeton scoring the winning basket on a layup behind Gabe Lewullis, a future orthopedic surgeon.

Despite such victories, Mr. Carril struggled to persuade high school standouts to turn down full scholarships from other colleges and play for him.

“Princeton can be a tough sell to a highly recruited kid,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “What can I tell you? That if he has excellent grades, an SAT score of 1200, and generous parents, we might consider letting him in?

Peter Joseph Carril was born on July 10, 1930, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where his Spanish immigrant father spent decades as a steelworker and raised his son as a single father. He grew up in a $21-a-month apartment where he could smell smoke from Bethlehem Steel across the street.

Mr. Carril played pool and basketball at the Bethlehem Boys Club. Although he was only 5-foot-7, he starred on his high school team and later played at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. His cunning play and, later, his philosophy as a coach reflected his father’s oft-repeated maxim: The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong.

In his senior year, in 1952, he won Little All America honors for small college players. But after a brief military service, when he applied for his first coaching job at Easton High School, he was mistaken for a janitor. In 1959, he received a master’s degree in educational administration from Lehigh University in his hometown.

At Reading (Pa.) High School, he compiled a record of 145-42. He then coached for a year at Lehigh before moving to Princeton in 1967. He was hired on the recommendation of his predecessor at Princeton, Butch van Breda Kolff, who had coached Mr. Carril at Lafayette and went on to a long coaching career in the NBA. .

It came two years after van Breda Kolff and Bill Bradley, Princeton’s all-time great and future US Senator, led the Tigers to a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament.

As the larger schools became increasingly dominant, Mr. Carril’s teams never got past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But he did win 514 games at Princeton, giving him a total of 525 college wins. He shrugged at the achievement and said, “It just means I’ve been here for a while.”

His marriage to Dolores Halteman ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, Peter Lane of Princeton and Lisa Lane of Pennington, NJ; and two grandchildren.

After leaving Princeton, Mr. Carril’s philosophy of basketball gained wider airplay, thanks, in part, to several of his assistants who became head coaches, including Bill Carmody at Princeton, John Thompson III at Georgetown, and Craig Robinson ( the brother of former first lady Michelle Obama) in the state of Oregon.

Princeton’s offense was even adopted by NBA teams, despite the league’s reputation for selfish, one-on-one play. Mr. Carril spent the last decade of his career, from 1996 to 2006, coaching the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach.

Outside the basketball court, Carril had few hobbies other than smoking Macanudo cigars, a habit he gave up after a heart attack in 2000.

“I get my happiness from seeing things get done right,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “from being successful, from seeing the interaction of people working together for a good cause, pouring their hearts out on the floor, giving you what better than what they have.”

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