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A Team for the Ages

Monday, December 17, 2007

Courtesy: Jerry Price, Princeton Athletic Communications

Bill Carmody is wearing that tweed sport coat he always wore, at least before he started going to the no-jacket-top-button-buttoned look that he favored as time went on. His expression is one of bewilderment, with a blank stare on his face and his hands spread out in front of him, palms up.

It was a familiar look during his four seasons as the head coach of men's basketball at Princeton. It was the look he gave when informed that Hamilton, soon to be his Division III return-from-exam opponent one season, had finally lost a game, spoiling a perfect season and taking some of the edge off his comments that the Continentals were going to be hard to beat when they got to Jadwin.

“They lost at Oneonta," he said that day. “You're not going to win there.”

This particular look from Carmody is staring up at you now from a weathered 1997-98 Princeton media guide. It's the picture from the back cover, where Carmody, then the second-year head coach of the Tigers after a 15-year hitch as Pete Carril's top assistant with the program, stands staring at the schedule, in a look that echoes his predecessor's legendary line, repeated annually: “I'm trying to figure out which game we're going to win.”

Not that he ever believed it, just like he never believed that Hamilton was going to be too tough. Bill Carmody is a shrewd guy, and he knew the hand he was holding that year.

The 1997-98 Princeton men's basketball team put together a legendary season, by any account. The Tigers had the best record in Division I basketball that season, going 27-2 with only a loss to top-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill in mid-December and a loss to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA tournament 21 games later. Princeton would go 14-0 in the Ivy League; the average score would be 72.3-51.4. The Tigers would end the regular season ranked eighth in the Associated Press poll and would earn a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament. Princeton would play seven games at Jadwin Gym that season that drew at least 6,000 fans.

Princeton would set school records that year for wins (27), fewest losses (2), winning streak (20), three-pointers made in a season (265), assists in a season (478) and winning percentage (.931) that still stand.

“I think that team changed the mindset about mid-major teams by showing just how good it was,” says Alexander Wolff, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated who wrote about that team (and a member of the Princeton Class of 1979). “That team demonstrated for everyone how good a team from that level could be. It changed everybody's thinking. Maybe the era of parity in college basketball started with Chaminade's win over Virginia (in 1983). George Mason, everything that came after it, that Princeton team was a big chapter in it.”

To read Jerry Price's piece on the 1997-98 top-ten ranked Princeton Tiger men's basketball team in it's entirety, please click here.