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Men's hoops relies on unsung assistants

Sunday night was miserable.

Maybe you remember looking out your window at the cold, hard rain as you watched the NCAA Tournament selection show. But what did it matter? The Tigers got a five seed, right? The game was in driving distance. No problem there. Besides, you had no need to go outside in such crummy weather.

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Even the otherwise diehard residents of "Carmodyville" found shelter from the elements as they lounged inside the lobby of Jadwin Gym, counting the minutes until their two-night encampment would be rewarded with prized tickets.

The members of the men's basketball team didn't see all that much of the rain. Neither did head coach Bill Carmody. They stood around in the bowels of Jadwin, answering one question after another about seedings, locations and Runnin' Rebels.

But amidst all the hubbub surrounding Princeton basketball Sunday night, two men were noticeably absent. Assistant coaches Joe Scott '87 and John Thompson III '88 were getting acquainted with the weather.

"They're on the road right now getting tapes an hour and a half north of here," Carmody said.

This is the life of an assistant coach: road trips, late nights, sacrifice. Throw in some anonymity and your description is almost complete. Just one thing left to mention, the one thing that can drive two men to stray far from home on a miserable Sunday night in search of video footage of a team they will not face for another five days – love for the game of basketball.

Scott and Thompson, along with volunteer assistant coach Howard Levy '85, love the game. And if you love the game, the life of an assistant coach isn't so bad. In fact, it's probably the second best job you could ask for.

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"No one turns down a head (coaching) job," Levy says.

While all three Princeton assistants look forward to one day heading a team of their own, they are currently content to build their resumes as invaluable members of Carmody's coaching staff.

"I think this is one of the best places in the country to be an assistant coach to prepare you to be a head coach because you don't have defined roles," Thompson says. "A lot of people at different programs move on and maybe were just in charge of offense and didn't have to think about defense on a regular basis, or they just did recruiting or just did XYZ. Whereas here, we all have an active part in everything that is going on.

"(We) are more prepared than (coaches at) most other places to move on to the next level."

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Indeed, Scott, Thompson and Levy all take part in the various jobs of an assistant, everything from working with individual players in practice to preparing scouting reports on opponents to analyzing game tape. Scott and Thompson also spend a lot of time on the road recruiting high school players, while Levy's volunteer status prohibits him from that particular duty.

As Carmody pointed out shortly before Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, the three assistants have played a large role in Princeton's recent success. Their expertise stems largely from their days as members of the Tiger squads of the mid-1980s.

"It helps so much when your coach has already gone through what you're going through now," senior forward James Mastaglio said. "Being ex-Princeton guys and being such great basketball players, when they say something to you, you really listen."

Scott started at point guard for three years under former coach Pete Carril, earning an All-Ivy League honorable mention as a junior and making the All-Ivy second team as a senior. He ranks 10th among Princeton's all-time leaders in career assists, as well as fourth in career steals.

Thompson compiled 358 assists during his career, the most of any forward in Princeton history and the third most overall. The Tigers' record improved each year of Thompson's career, and the team finished 17-9 his senior season.

In the Princeton record books, Levy ranks first in career field goal percentage (.647) and second and fourth on the single-season field goal percentage list. He played center for two Ivy championship teams that combined to go 3-2 in the NCAA tournament.

In a sign of things to come, Scott, Thompson and Levy all served as captains during their respective senior seasons.

After graduation, all three men looked to put their Princeton education to use. Levy and Scott attended law school while Thompson worked with a sports marketing firm. But it didn't take long before they realized they were fooling themselves. The call of the game was too strong.

"It took one year as a lawyer to realize that (coaching) is really what I want to do," Scott says.

"(Coaching) is in the blood and it's something I've known for a while," Thompson – whose father is the Georgetown head coach of the same name – says. "But there are so many other options out there, so you go and fiddle around for a few years and pretend like you're interested in what you're doing. And then you say, 'I'm going to go do what I want to do.' "

Scott joined the coaching staff in 1992 while Carmody was still an assistant under Carril. After Carril's retirement in March 1996 and Carmody's ensuing promotion, Scott became the senior assistant on the Princeton bench. Thompson is now in his third season as an assistant while Levy is in his second.

While Scott and Thompson are full-time paid assistants, Levy holds down another job as founder and owner of HYP Hats. He heads into New York early in the mornings to work a full day before rushing back to Princeton to attend practice.

Levy's superhuman effort is symbolic of the work the assistants have done all season for the Tigers. It doesn't matter that their efforts go largely unnoticed by those outside of the team. They aren't in it for the exposure.

"I think when you're a coach, especially here, you do it because you love to do it," Scott says. "It might be different from some other places where they are getting a lot of money to coach. Here you coach because you love the game of basketball. It's what's in your heart."

Sunday night may have been miserable, but the hearts of Scott, Thompson and Levy were content. After all, they were doing what they love.

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