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Men's hoops to rebound... as Carmody and Young break away

With five returning starters and a head coach entering his fifth full season, a great deal of optimism surrounded the men's basketball team's upcoming year. After two years as the Ivy League's bridesmaid to rival Penn, the Tigers seemed poised to triumph over a depleted Quaker roster and reclaim the Ivy crown.

That was two weeks ago.

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Now, a team that prides itself on fluid passing and pressure defense has found out that the word turnover has an entirely different meaning.

Since Aug. 30, the Tigers have lost standout junior center Chris Young to Major League Baseball and head coach Bill Carmody to Northwestern University. These two announcements come after the loss of top assistant Joe Scott at the end of last year and the absence of junior swingman Ray Robins, who is taking the year off.

Throw in the fact that highly-touted sophomore forward Chris Krug is returning from a one-year absence and the Princeton bench is looking like an interesting game of musical chairs.

The first departure came Aug. 30, when Young officially decided to forgo his remaining two years of eligibility on both the Princeton basketball and baseball teams to join the Pittsburgh Pirates after being chosen 82nd in last spring's draft. The contract, which includes a $1.65 million signing bonus, comes on the heels of a 5-0 baseball season that earned Young a spot on the All-Ivy First Team for the second year in a row.

Because Ivy League rules prohibit athletes from participating in intercollegiate sports after having signed a professional contract — even in different sports — Young's decision ended both his Princeton baseball and basketball careers.

"The offer the Pirates made was too good to pass up," Young said. "[The deal] is similar to something a 12th-18th pick would receive. To limit myself to saying next year I could do better was a chance I didn't want to take."

Shockwaves

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One week later, another press conference sent even more shockwaves through the Princeton basketball program. Carmody announced he would accept Northwestern's offer to fill its recently vacated head coaching spot, ending his 18-year Princeton coaching career. He takes the reins of a Wildcat team that finished last season with only five wins and an 0-16 record in the Big Ten.

"Four years ago, when I took the head coaching job at Princeton, I told my athletics director that . . . there are four or five jobs that if they became available I would try to pursue, and Northwestern was one of those jobs," Carmody said at the press conference announcing his hiring.

Top assistant John Thompson III '88, who has served as an assistant coach for five years under both Carmody and former coaching great Pete Carril, was elevated to Princeton's top spot a day later, ending the whirlwind of events.

The effects of the changes are still sinking in with the players, though they realize the reasons behind the choices made by Carmody and Young.

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"Obviously we understand both decisions," Krug said. "Both had great opportunities they had to take."

While the loss of Carmody will undoubtedly affect the Tigers on and off the court, Young's departure is seen by many as an even bigger loss.

"In many regards, losing Chris is a bigger deal," Thompson said. "Coach Carmody is a great coach, but I'm going to emulate what I've seen taught by both Carril and Carmody. [Young and Robins] do their thing on the court, so you have to figure their departures mean more."

Both losses could challenge Princeton basketball's bid to continue its recent success. The Tigers have been to the postseason for five straight years and finished either first or second in the league for seven of the last nine years. Besides overcoming personnel changes, Princeton also faces a difficult schedule — featuring eight NCAA Tournament teams from last season — including a season opener at Duke.

"I bless John [Thompson]. He's going to be in for an extremely challenging year," Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67 said at the press conference announcing his promotion.

Key contributors

Young's absence leaves the 19-11 Tigers lacking their most reliable player. The junior averaged 13.5 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories. He also finished the season either first or second in blocks, assists, steals and free throw attempts, helping earn him first-team all-Ivy honors.

Robins was often an important contributor as well, providing athleticism to a system known for utilizing passing and outside shooting rather than driving and dunking.

Until Young's announcement, the Tigers could rely on the fact that for the past six seasons the offense could utilize atypical big men — first Steve Goodrich '98 and then Young — who were effective both inside and outside the paint. The sudden departure of Young puts the center position in question, and in the absence of another strong contributor on the floor, it is unclear how the Tigers will fill the void.

"Chris was a luxury," senior center Nate Walton said. "He was big and could do things a normal center can't."

Walton and senior Terence Rozier-Byrd, as well as the returning Krug, will share the load in the middle, as Thompson and his team reassess their strengths and weaknesses.

"We're not going to change the Princeton system," Krug said. "We're still going to have somebody in the middle, but it's a different kind of team, and it's going to be a different look."

Princeton has won in the past without a dominant big man, and they hope to do it again. And Thompson, who has been both student and teacher of the Princeton system throughout his career, may be the perfect candidate to maintain Princeton basketball's success even in this season of change.