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Pete Carril, a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball coach, developed a system of play called the Princeton Offense that propelled his undersized Princeton teams to heroic performances against the powers that be NCAA Division I and shaped the game from high school to national basketball Association, died on August 15 in a Philadelphia hospital. He was 92.
The cause was complications after a stroke, his grandson Pete Carril said.
As an Ivy League school, Princeton does not award athletic scholarships, and for 29 seasons – 1967-1968 to 1995-1996 – Mr. Carril prepared prospective attorneys, professors and government officials to take on teams with future NBA drafts, particularly during tournament play the season.
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 ground, turn down the shot clock, and wear down defenders until they made a mistake — or a Princeton player squirmed free for a layup or jump shot.
“The most important thing is to get a good hit on the ground every time,” said Mr. Carril (pronounced cow-RILL), who was inspired by the unselfish play of Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in the 1960s. “If that’s old-fashioned, then I’m guilty.”
During Mr. Carril’s time at Princeton, his team won the 1975 National Invitational Tournament, clinched 13 Ivy League titles, secured 11 spots in NCAA tournaments, and raided basketball powerhouses like UCLA, Indiana and Duke. He was the only Division I men’s coach to win more than 500 games (most of them against Ivy League teams) without an athletic scholarship, and in 1997 he was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We went into every game thinking we had an advantage no matter who we were playing against because we were incredibly prepared,” Matt Eastwick, one of Mr. Carril’s former players, told the Go Princeton Tigers website in 2007. “Isn’t that the mark of a great coach?”
But the most famous game Mr. Carril coached was one Princeton lost.
In the first round of the 1989 NCAA tournament, his 16th Tigers played Georgetown, the No. 1 seed, a team led by 6-foot-10 Alonzo Mourning and 7-foot-2 Dikembe Mutombo, both future NBA Hall of Famers, was anchored .
To simulate their massive presence at practice, Mr. Carril had his assistants hold up brooms for his much smaller players to shoot over. During the pregame warm-up, ESPN announcer Mike Gorman said Princeton, a 23-point underdog with no players taller than 6ft 8, looked like a high school team that 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 rushing for the ball and then slicing to the basket behind their defenders’ backs to make easy layups. At halftime, Princeton held a staggering eight-point lead. Georgetown came back in the second half and won by a single point, 50-49, but the game was seen as a vindication for small schools and changed the nature of the NCAA tournament.
By then, first-round games were banned from cable television. But the prospect of more David vs. Goliath Barnburners helped convince CBS to sign a seven-year, $1 billion deal with the NCAA to televise every game of the tournament and transformed college basketball’s March Madness into a cultural phenomenon , which competes with the Super Bowl.
Before the game, NCAA officials considered revoking automatic bids for weaker conferences because their teams were often blown out. Princeton’s riveting near miss ended those discussions and opened the door to future excitement from small fish like the state of Middle Tennessee, the Florida Gulf Coast, northern Iowa and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Sports Illustrated called Princeton-Georgetown “The Game That Saved the March Madness.”
Years later, Mr. Carril admitted that his aim had been far more modest. “We tried not to embarrass ourselves,” he said.
With his gnome-like build, pendulous ears, and tufts of unruly white hair, Mr. Carril drew comparisons to Yoda, the Jedi Master of the Star Wars films. With a game program in his fist, he roamed the sidelines and begged his players. Once, when his middle cut the wrong way, the frustrated coach tore his own shirt in half.
“He was tough on guys and tough on me, but very 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’s had an amazing career as a coach, mostly outsmarting people.”
In the opening round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, Mr. Carril cheated defending champion UCLA.
To deny quick breakthroughs to the stronger, faster Bruins, he ordered his players to get back on defense and execute their deliberate small-ball offense, which one sportswriter likened to “water torture.” The game went to the end when Princeton scored the winning basket after a backdoor layup by Gabe Lewullis, a future orthopedic surgeon.
Despite these victories, Mr. Carril struggled to persuade high school luminaries to turn down full scholarships from other universities and play for him.
“It can be difficult to sell Princeton to a highly recruited kid,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “What can I tell him? That if he has great grades and an SAT score of 1,200 and generous parents, we might consider taking him on?
Peter Joseph Carril was born on July 10, 1930 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where his Spanish immigrant father spent decades working in steel and raised his son as a single father. He grew up in a $21-a-month apartment where he could smell Bethlehem Steel smoke across the street.
Mr. Carril played billiards and basketball at the Bethlehem Boys Club. Although he was only 5ft 7, he played on his high school team and then played at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. His clever play and later his coaching philosophy reflected his father’s oft-repeated maxim: The strong take the weak, but the smart from the strong.
As a senior, he won Little All America Honors for small collegiate players in 1952. But after a brief military service, when he showed up 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 145-42 record. He then coached at Lehigh for a year 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 began a long coaching career in the NBA.
It came two years after van Breda Kolff and Bill Bradley, Princeton’s greatest player of all time and future US Senator, led the Tigers to a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament.
As larger schools became more dominant, Mr. Carril’s teams never progressed past the second round of the NCAA tournament. But he won 514 games at Princeton, giving him 525 collegiate wins overall. He shrugged and said, “It just means I’ve been at this for a while.”
His marriage to Dolores Halteman ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, Peter Carril of Princeton and Lisa Carril of Pennington, NJ; and two grandchildren.
After leaving Princeton, Mr. Carril’s basketball philosophy gained wider acceptance, 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 former First Lady’s brother). Michelle Obama) in the state of Oregon.
The Princeton offense has even been 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, teaching the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach.
Off the basketball court, Mr. Carril had few pastimes other than smoking Macanudo cigars, a habit he gave up after suffering a heart attack in 2000.
“I’m happy when I see things being done right,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “to be successful, to see the interaction of people working together for a good cause, pouring out their hearts and giving to you.” the best they have.”