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Moments in March: Bill Bradley ’65 led the Tigers to their only Final Four run in school history

<p>The 1964–65 Princeton Men’s basketball team. </p><p>1965 Bric-a-brac / Princeton University, via <a href="https://paw.princeton.edu/podcast/rules-motion-1964-65-mens-basketball-final-four-season-part-i" target="">Princeton Alumni Weekly</a>.</p>

The 1964–65 Princeton Men’s basketball team.

1965 Bric-a-brac / Princeton University, via Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Before Pete Carril, before Jadwin Gymnasium, even before Princeton had won multiple games in an NCAA tournament, there was Bill Bradley ’65.

Bradley is far and away the best basketball player to ever don the Princeton jersey. His accolades are impressive; he was a three-time All-American, 1964 Team USA Olympic athlete, 1965 AP Player of the Year, and has a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He is the only Princeton men’s basketball player to accomplish any of those feats. 

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“With Bill, you [were] sort of in every game… you can almost play anybody, and if Bill [played] well, you [were] going to do well… and Bill rarely had an off night,” teammate Ed Hummer ’67 remembered in a 2015 conversation with the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Bradley’s skill and consistency on the court had a lot to do with his impressive work ethic. John McPhee ’53 documented Bradley’s practice habits extensively in his profile of the Princeton star, the book “A Sense of Where You Are.” As a child growing up in Crystal City, Mo., Bradley stayed up late at night shooting baskets in the driveway. In high school, he borrowed the keys to the school gym so that he could stick to his practice schedule: three and a half hours Sunday to Friday, and eight hours on Saturday.

According to McPhee, Bradley began every college workout by taking a manner of different types of shots from varying distances, systematically moving around the court. Bradley would not move to the next spot without making 10/13 shots from the area he was currently shooting.

“Many basketball players,” McPhee wrote, “could spend five years in a gym and not make ten out of thirteen left-handed hook shots, but that is part of Bradley’s routine.” 

The precision with which Bradley played the game was almost scientific. He broke down each type of shot into a series of motions, which he would practice and perfect constantly. He also had unbelievable spatial awareness, which inspired the name of McPhee’s book. McPhee wrote about one practice session in which Bradley traveled to Lawrenceville School and shot on their baskets. After starting his shooting poorly, Bradley said that the rim was about one and one-half inches below regulation height. McPhee measured the height of the hoop, and he found the basket measured one and one-eighth inches below regulation. He was mystified. 

“People can’t and don’t know the extent to which he had this aura… and in many ways almost because he never sought it. But he had an aura,” guard Gary Walters ’67 added in conversation with Hummer.

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Bradley’s pregame rituals also added to his legend and partially account for this “aura” Walters described. Bob Haarlow ’66, who was a forward on the 1964–65 squad, remembered some of these habits in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

“Before every game, he washed his hands, maybe for two minutes,” Haarlow said. “I was told that he wanted to get the oil off of his hands.” This would allow Bradley to increase the friction between his hands and the ball. Bradley would also perform a shooting routine similar to what he did during workouts in his pregame warmups, and he would often make so many shots in a row that even opposing fans would begin cheering him on.

Bradley accumulated many stunning accomplishments during his career, and there are many fascinating tales to be told about him, but perhaps the most remarkable contribution Bradley made to basketball history was his performance in the 1965 NCAA tournament in his senior year, where he led the Tigers to their first and only Final Four appearance en route to winning the Most Outstanding Player Award for the tournament.

Bradley and his teammates also led the team to a 13–1 conference record and an Ivy League title. The story of the 1965 Princeton Basketball team is the story of Bill Bradley and Head Coach Butch van Breda Kolff ’45 leading a group of relatively inexperienced junior and sophomore players to accomplish historic feats throughout the season, to which no Princeton team has ever come close.

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In the fall of 1964, the Tigers were coming off of a successful 1963–64 season which saw them finish with a respectable 12–2 record in the Ivy League and a 20–9 record overall. Their Ivy League record earned them the league championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they defeated Virginia Military Institute for their second-ever tournament victory before bowing out in a narrow loss against Connecticut in the second round. Bill Bradley set the still-standing single-season Ivy League points record with 464, led the conference in rebounds for the second straight season, and led the conference in free throw percentage.

Coach van Breda Kolff inherited an emotionally-adrift team, still shaken after legendary former coach Cappy Cappon died of a heart attack in the showers of Dillon Gymnasium, and was able to get off to a red-hot start, raising the morale of the team and its fans in the process. He led the Tigers to a combined 39–15 overall record in his first two seasons, and was only recruiting more impressive talent as the years went on. Furthermore, despite losing team captain Bill Howard ’64, the team retained other key players such as Bob Haarlow and Don Rodenbach ’66, who were entering their junior seasons, and who had, combined, 18.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game the season before. 

The spotlight was on the Tigers, and it shined especially bright on Bradley; he led Team USA to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Many wondered if he could live up to his national reputation during the college season. Although the spotlight did not shine as brightly on the rest of the team, they had similar lofty aspirations for the season.

“The expectations were high, but we wanted the freshman and sophomores to hurry up and get acclimated,” Haarlow recalled. Preparations for the season were intense; van Breda Kolff needed to make sure his team was well-conditioned and understood his offensive system before the season began.

“Coach ran us a lot. We scrimmaged a lot,” Haarlow added. “He said we had to scrimmage to find where the flaws were.”

Although it would still be three more years until the team hired legendary coach Pete Carril, the team’s offensive style was not dissimilar from the famous “Princeton offense” which Carril would install during his tenure from 1967–96. Like the Princeton offense, van Breda Kolff’s offensive philosophy centered around off-ball movement and continuous passing. The team had very few set plays.

“Van Breda Kolff taught basketball with something of the extemporaneous quality of a jazz performance,” Bradley wrote in his book “Values of the Game.” “Under his freelance offense, players developed the ability to create… above all, the game was fun.”

Van Breda Kolff’s offense was innovative, and is respected by many coaches to this day; famed Indiana coach Bobby Knight was once quoted as calling him “one of the greatest offensive minds in basketball.” Bradley, whose passing and shooting abilities were exemplary, and whose court vision was superhuman (quite literally: McPhee took Bradley to an optometrist while writing his book, and discovered that Bradley’s field of vision extended 195 degrees), was the engine at the center of this offense, and much to the pleasure of van Breda Kolff, he typically fired on all cylinders.

Many scholars of the game believe that despite the superlatives bestowed on him by a number of famed coaches, van Breda Kolff has not received enough credit for how crucial his offensive style was to Princeton’s success in the 1960s. In his book “The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball: from Bill Bradley to Penn’s Final Four (1964–1979),” Paul Hutter ‘74 calls van Breda Kolff the “father of the Golden Age.” Without van Breda Kolff, he opined, “there would be no Bill Bradley, at least as he came to be known: demigod, transformational legend.” 

Aside from his offensive genius, van Breda Kolff was also known for being a well-loved and expressive coach.

“He was a player’s coach… to some of the players he was a father figure,” Haarlow noted. “He could be rough, but there was an understanding and sensitivity about him which I appreciate to this day.”

Van Breda Kolff was especially well-known for his bizarre antics and passionate locker room speeches. “When he was angry… his face turned red, and his cheeks puffed up,” Haarlow remembered.

Head coach Butch van Breda Kolff 45 (left) was known for his fiery presence (Mudd Library).

Haarlow remembers a specific game against Brown, which was considered to be inferior competition at the time, where van Breda Kolff became particularly animated at halftime. The game was close, and players were bracing for what would certainly be an angry speech.

“Coach came in and walked over to the blackboard,” Haarlow remembers. “He wrote ‘girls, all you guys are interested in is girls.’” Van Breda Kolff proceeded to write a list of things which he considered the players as thinking of as more important than basketball, including money and studying. Basketball, and below it, winning, were written at the bottom of the list.

“He let us have it that game,” Haarlow said. Princeton went on to win.

Despite his unorthodox tactics, van Breda Kolff was incredibly successful during his previous two seasons at Princeton, winning the Ivy League title both years. In the 1964–65 season, the Tigers got off to a hot start in their title defense, winning five of their first seven non-conference games. Their only losses were one at Villanova and against 10th-ranked Saint Louis. 

Their next challenge was the Holiday Festival tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Tigers beat Syracuse by 10 in the first game before being matched up against first-ranked Michigan in the semifinal. 

Papers in New York relished the matchup and were crammed with coverage of the game. The media was especially interested in the head-to-head battle of Bradley and Michigan All-American Cazzie Russell (interestingly enough, both would coincidentally become teammates on the Knicks, who play in the very arena where the tournament was held). None of these papers gave Princeton or Bradley any chance of winning the duel.

Princeton played an incredible game, running an efficient offense and keeping Michigan, and Russell, at bay. Don Rodenbach took on Cazzie Russell as his defensive assignment, holding him to just six points in each half.

“I didn’t want him to get in a rhythm,” Rodenbach remembered in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “The other team gets very nervous if you shut down [their star player] early.” In fact, Rodenbach played so well on defense against Russell that the Michigan star claimed to newspapers that he had a “torn sneaker” as an excuse for his lackluster performance.

“We went crazy when we read that,” Rodenbach said, “because we knew the deal.”

With just 4:37 remaining in the second half, the Tigers led 75–63. Then, disaster struck.

Bradley made contact with the arm of a Michigan player who was attempting to drive to the basket, and was called for his fifth foul. He was one of four starters who fouled out in the game.

“The rest of us just melted down,” Haarlow remembered. Michigan went on a 17–3 run to close the game and won 80–78. Bradley finished with 41 points, and was ultimately named the tournament’s most valuable player. Russell scored 10 more points after Rodenbach fouled out late in the second half, and finished with 22.

Despite the loss, Bradley and the Tigers made an impression on the 18,000-plus fans packed into the Garden for the game.

“When Bradley fouled out, he received a standing ovation… never have I heard a standing ovation so loud,” Haarlow recalled. The enthusiasm for the underdog Tigers and their hero was palpable. 

The crowd applauded Bradley when he fouled out (Mudd Library).

The Tigers also proved to themselves that they could compete with the best of the best.

“We derived some real satisfaction from that game,” Haarlow explained.

Although the team was disappointed to lose, Bradley referenced a similar feeling of forward progress present among the team after the loss.

“Van Breda Kolff closed the doors to the locker room… talked to us about what had happened, and how we have to think about things going forward,” he remembered in an interview with the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

“We didn’t need encouragement,” Rodenbach recalled, referencing the team’s mood after the Michigan loss. “Everybody was extremely motivated.” 

The Tigers then looked ahead to an Ivy League schedule, where Penn and Cornell were expected to be the main challengers in their title defense. The Tigers played Yale in their first matchup.

The game was closer than expected. Bradley, exhausted from staying up the night before working on a paper, moved sluggishly about the court. The game was tied at the end of the second half. Bradley only made three shots during regulation, but in overtime, he scored seven points and led the Tigers to victory.

In the next two games, the Tigers handled Brown and Columbia easily. Bradley scored 38 against Brown on 76 percent shooting, and netted 41 points against Columbia. The Tigers then traveled to Ithaca, N.Y. to take on Cornell.

The team, not helped by a blizzard which delayed the travel of the team bus and kept the players up until late in the morning, played poorly. Bradley shot 2-for-17 in the first half, for just 10 points. In the second half, he exploded, coming up with an additional 30 points, and the Tigers erased a 16-point Cornell lead. Bob Haarlow had a chance to win the game for the Tigers late.

“We were down by one with a few seconds left,” Haarlow recalled. “I was a little bit behind the free throw line… I don’t remember who passed me the ball, but I had the last second shot, and it was a clanker that didn’t go through.” The Tigers lost 70–69. “It was certainly a low point of the season,” he added.

One reporter for the ‘Prince’ had low confidence in the Tigers after the loss, writing, “as things stand now, Princeton may need luck to win the Ivy title everyone took for granted.”

Players, meanwhile, dismissed the poor performance as an “off-night” and expected to rebound in the following game.

The Tigers bounced back in their next game against rival Penn at the Palestra, securing an 83–72 victory. After a rocky first half, in which many fouls were called against key Princeton players, the team was forced to make a rare switch to zone defense, which proved to be the key to their victory.

After the win over Penn, the Tigers rattled off seven more consecutive victories against conference foes before it was time for a rematch with Cornell, this time at Dillon Gym.

Coming into the game, Cornell had two losses in the Ivy League, meaning that if they were able to defeat Princeton (and Princeton completed the season sweep against Pennsylvania in their next game), then the Ivy League title would be decided by a playoff game. The contest was also Bradley’s second-to-last home game. 

“The place was packed,” Haarlow recalled. “[Bradley’s] parents came down from St. Louis… that must have been the only Ivy League game I remember knowing they were there.” The demand for seats in Dillon was so high that the school set up closed-circuit television cameras in the gym so that those who were unable to get tickets could watch from other locations on campus.

The Tigers jumped out to a 17-point lead at halftime and didn’t look back, handily winning 107–84. Bradley finished with 33 points. “Everyone seemed to come together for that game,” Haarlow said. 

“We knew we were a better team than they were. We wanted to blow them off the court, and we did,” Bradley told McPhee in “A Sense of Where You Are.”

In appreciation of Bradley, students stole the clapper from the top of Nassau Hall and awarded it to him after the game.

Bradley cut down the nets in Dillon Gym after the Tigers defeated Cornell to win the Ivy League (Mudd Library). 

The Tigers had won the Ivy League, and were granted a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Bill Bradley and the team he led throughout the highs and lows of his final season would have at least one more chance to prove to themselves and to the nation what they could accomplish.

First up for the Tigers were the Penn State Nittany Lions. Bradley was feeling great before the game; nagging injuries had forced him to wear a knee brace all season long, but he was able to play without it.

“Boy, I hope I play the way I feel,” Bradley told van Breda Kolff during warmups.

The game was closer than expected, and Bradley came up with some key buckets down the stretch. Then, during a Penn State inbounds play late in the game, Rodenbach and Penn State player Bobby Weiss made contact, causing Weiss to fall to the ground. The inbounder’s pass fell into the hands of Rodenbach, who raced down the court for an easy layup.

The famous play has provoked a lot of controversy over the years, which Rodenbach dismisses. “My right leg was planted and motionless at the time his right heel came back,” Rodenbach insisted. “I’m not alleging this, and I’d love to joke with Bobby [Weiss] about it, but did he flop?”

Regardless of whether or not a foul occurred, the layup helped swing the game in the Tigers’ favor, and they won narrowly by a score of 60–58. “I think we overlooked them,” Haarlow admitted. “We were lucky to win.”

In the following round, Princeton matched up with ACC champions North Carolina State. The Tigers stifled their opposition with a suffocating defensive press. Princeton won 66–48. “We had a little bit of a Cinderella aura around us,” Rodenbach recalled. The Tigers had now knocked off two big programs in the tournament, and were hungry for more.

In the next game, Princeton matched up with No. 4-ranked Providence in the national quarterfinal. Many members of the Princeton team recall watching Providence win their matchup against No. 3-ranked St. Joseph’s and cut down the nets prematurely, seemingly signaling they expected to defeat Princeton in the next game. “It was definitely an insult to us,” said Gary Walters in his interview with the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

The insults didn’t stop there. The Washington Star, previewing the game, claimed that Princeton would need five Bill Bradleys to have a shot against the Friars, according to McPhee’s book. This deeply offended Bradley, and he called a meeting of the players.

“We actually don’t know how good we are,” he said, passionately. “We have beaten the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference with a good defense. We scored 107 points against Cornell with a good offense. We have never fully combined the defense and the offense.”

The insults, along with Bradley’s speech, proved to be quite the motivation, because the Tigers absolutely wiped the floor with Providence, combining the offense and defense Bradley spoke of. Princeton ended up winning 109–69, while shooting a whopping 68.3 percent from the field.

Rodenbach, the team’s defensive ace, stuck to Providence star Jimmy Walker just as he had stuck to Cazzie Russell earlier in the season. Bill Bradley finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in what can only be described as an impeccable performance by him and the team.

“The Providence game was the most perfect game I have ever been a part of,” Haarlow said.

“In the Providence game I was a member of the greatest team I had ever played on,” Bradley told McPhee.

In fact, the game was so perfectly played even van Breda Kolff had no animated words for his halftime speech. “He [got] in there…and all of a sudden he just [started] laughing,” Don Roth ’65 remembered in his interview with the Princeton Alumni Weekly. “We were all kind of shocked… we really just blew them out in the second half.”

The Tigers celebrate upon their return to campus after the Providence win (‘Prince’ archive).

The victory was doubly remarkable since the media, and many fans, had given the Tigers little chance of winning the game.

“I got a call from my roommate, and he said ‘I heard the score, but I think they had it reversed’” Rodenbach recalled, chuckling. “I couldn’t fall asleep the whole night … it was so exciting.”

Princeton had pulled off the improbable: winning three tournament games and earning a spot in the Final Four for the first time in school history. 

Next up was a rematch with Michigan. After the December loss, Bradley had told his teammates about the one way they could get back at the Wolverines: by winning the Ivy League, and then the East Region of the NCAA tournament to meet them in the Final Four. They would now have that chance.

Princeton was surging at the right time, and Michigan’s staff was concerned about the Princeton star producing another stellar performance. After watching Bradley pick apart Providence, Michigan assistant Tom Jorgensen had this to say on the scouting report: “I’ll just tell them that he’s the greatest that ever lived, because they won’t believe anything else I tell them.” Needless to say, both teams were expecting an exciting rematch.

Unfortunately, the Tigers weren’t able to produce a performance similar to the one they gave in Madison Square Garden earlier that season.

“We were only down by four at the half, and we weren’t playing well,” Haarlow remembered. Princeton’s big men, who had been holding the Wolverines’ athletes at bay, got into foul trouble. As in the first game, Bradley was one of them, and left the game with about five minutes left. Michigan took a serious rebounding advantage and built a lead in the second half, ending up with a 93–76 victory.

“They were just too good that night ... and we didn’t measure up,” Haarlow added.

Earlier in the season, after Princeton lost to Michigan in Madison Square Garden, Bradley was quoted as describing the game “as one of life’s experiences” — a typical, even-keeled Bradley response. According to Haarlow, after the loss in the national semifinal, not even Bradley was able to hide the disappointment that each player on the team felt. “‘I’m crestfallen,’” Haarlow remembers him saying. In a comment to reporters at the hotel after the game, Bradley also referenced the telegram signed by 2,000 undergraduates, sent to Portland to wish the team well. “Boy, I sure hate to let those two thousand guys down,” he said.

Yet, Bradley was not the type to give up on himself or his teammates. He was an incredibly hard worker, almost obsessive, and of mild temperament. He would soldier on through any adversity. 

Bradley’s teammates had the same approach. “You had to have a short memory,” Rodenbach said. The team would have one more chance to prove their skill in the consolation game against Wichita State.

In this game, Princeton fired on all cylinders again, as they had against Providence. Wichita was powerless to stop the Princeton attack. The Tigers took a 53–39 lead into halftime.

Bradley had scored 19 points in the first half, and was on pace to have an excellent performance. This performance turned from excellent to legendary when Bradley brought his point total to 32 with 14 minutes still remaining in the game. Bob Haarlow recalls the moment where the team realized that Bradley may be headed towards a record-breaking night.

“Someone must have told Coach [van Breda Kolff] that Bradley was within reach of the scoring record,” he remembered. “So he wanted to put [Bradley] back in the game.” Bradley initially refused, saying the game was well in hand, but he ultimately obeyed van Breda Kolff.

“He went back in ... and he would get the ball and pass it to a teammate,” Haarlow continued. “Finally, everybody — from the spectators, to the players on the court, to the bench during a timeout — was saying, ‘Shoot the damn ball, will you, Brads?’”

Bradley told his side of the story in a recent interview with Princeton Alumni Weekly.

“They’d pass it to me, somebody has a better shot, I’d pass it to them, and strangely it started coming back to me. And I’d throw it back. Van Breda Kolff called a time out, and said, ‘Bradley, shoot the damn ball, this is your last game.’ And so I did.”

“He went on fire,” Haarlow exclaimed. Franklin Burgess ’65 and James Markham ’65, who covered the game live for the Princeton Alumni Weekly, described Bradley’s ensuing surge beautifully.

“Bradley became the only man on the court — and a weird, fairy-tale series of basketball moments ensued. It was the kind of display — except that it was not a show — that every would-be basketball star dreams of. Two classic Bradley jump shots from the left side. A swish from the top of the key. A long, languid hook from the very edge of the right corner which nestled into the net as if it were made to fit. Quick action: an aggressive, driving, tilted running jumper, and then, a routine Bradley jump shot to finish it off.”

By the end of the game, Bradley had amassed a superhuman 58 points, breaking Oscar Robertson’s single-game NCAA tournament record of 56. Princeton won 118–82.

It was the proper send-off for one of college basketball’s greatest. Yet, Bradley was characteristically stoic when leaving the court. Unimpressed by his individual performance, it seemed that Bradley’s mind had wandered to the stinging pain of having let his teammates down in the national semifinal, and not having delivered a championship.

Butch van Breda Kolff congratulates Bradley as he leaves the floor against Wichita State in the third-place game (Princeton Alumni Weekly).

Yet, the fans and students were incredibly proud of the team. Following UCLA’s defeat of Michigan in the title game, the small band of Princeton fans could be heard chanting “We're number three!” The performance of such a small school was certainly something to marvel at.

Upon returning to campus, the team was met by a raucous crowd of supporters. Bradley stood on top of the team bus to deliver a speech. “Last Sunday we all stood up on top of this bus and did some pretty big talking, Bradley said. “We didn't produce.” The fans, however, had a different memory of the events that had taken place, shouting chants of approval.

“I don't know whether to say I'm sorry,” Bradley continued, before being cut off by the crowd. “Say it fifty-eight times,” they shouted enthusiastically, referencing his record-breaking point total. The fans did not hold Bradley to the same expectations to which he held himself and the team.

Bradley was a meticulous player; he always had the same warm-up, always washed his hands to remove excess oil before the game, and practiced his shot non-stop. Through routine, he squeezed out every ounce of athletic ability in his body. His ability to elevate his own play to meet important occasions was infectious, and allowed each player to get the best out of their skillset, too.

Although he was a superstar with tremendous ability and a superb scoring average, Bradley poured all of his effort into perfecting team basketball. For Bradley, and each of his teammates, having this complete team effort come up short must have been incredibly disappointing, in spite of everything they accomplished.

However, over time, the sadness of the Michigan loss has faded for the players, and they can now feel the same way the fans did upon the team’s return.

“I can’t say enough about the experience [of being on the team],” Rodenbach remembers. “I kind of took it for granted ... we had a lot of fun.” 

“I thoroughly enjoyed Princeton,” Haarlow added. “I have re-lived a lot of neat things.”

The players from this team have every reason to be proud of what the squad was able to accomplish. Bill Bradley often receives a lot of credit for the success of the team, and rightfully so. However, each player on that team brought something special to the table, and deserves credit. Bob Haarlow averaged nearly ten points per game. Don Rodenbach shut down the best player on the opposing team. Ed Hummer and Robby Brown ’67 both played crucial roles in the post as sophomores. Gary Walters facilitated brilliantly from the guard position. Even Ken Shank ’65, who gained brief celebrity at Princeton when he came off the bench and scored a flurry of late baskets in a blowout win over Dartmouth, brought valuable passion to the team.

Each player was excellent in their role, and this allowed the team to operate as a unit. The deep, nearly telepathic bond between teammates, formed by the magic of every player operating in symphony with one another, won Princeton the Ivy League, and nearly won them a national title.

In his book “Values of the Game,” Bradley discussed the bond which a championship team, like the 1964–65 group, shares:

“Championship teams share a moment that few other people know. The overwhelming emotion derives from more than pride. Your devotion to your teammates, the depth of your sense of belonging, is something like blood kinship, but without its complications. Rarely can words fully express it. In the nonverbal world of basketball, it’s like grace or beauty or ease in other areas of your life. It is the bond that selflessness forges.” 

The legacy of selflessness, synergy, and success associated with the 1964–65 team has had an enormous impact on Princeton Basketball. Their enormous accomplishments got the program off of the ground, and they wrote the first chapter in the program’s storied history. The team’s story also showed future generations of Princeton players, and underdogs all across college basketball, that with the right brand of basketball, they too could compete with the blue-blood programs of the sport. The establishment of this David-versus-Goliath dynamic contributed to the NCAA’s decision to expand the tournament field later on, and paved the way for future Cinderella stories like Jimmy Valvano’s 1983 N.C. State team and Brad Stevens’s 2010 Butler squad.

Much to the chagrin of basketball enthusiasts everywhere, this team would never have the chance to compete in the new era of March Madness they helped to create. 

After the season, Bradley completed his senior thesis (on Harry Truman’s 1940 senate campaign) and then headed off to Oxford to take advantage of his Rhodes Scholarship, where he remained until beginning his career with the Knicks.

Van Breda Kolff would go on to coach Princeton for two more seasons, displaying his genius and coaching ability in Bradley’s absence. However, despite the overwhelming success and influence of his 1964–65 Tigers, and his team’s competitiveness (the ’66–67 team even reached No. 3 in the AP Poll), his Princeton teams never reached the Final Four again. After failing to win the Ivy League in 1966, the Tigers won the Ivy League in 1967 before bowing out of the second round of the NCAA Tournament against North Carolina. Van Breda Kolff left after the 1967 season to take the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Lakers. He left Princeton having won 76.9 percent of the games he coached, good for the third-best winning percentage in program history.

Although van Breda Kolff was no longer on the staff, his influence remained a part of the program for some time. In the ensuing coaching search, the team decided on hiring a candidate who played for van Breda Kolff during his tenure at Lafayette, and would one day call van Breda Kolff “the most important influence on [his] life.” The candidate was Pete Carril.  

Read the rest of our ‘Moments in March’ series here.

If you wish to do further reading on the 1964–65 men’s basketball team, check out these sources below:

“The Year of the Tiger:” the 1964–65 Basketball Season at Princeton — Mudd Library

“Rules of Motion: The 1964–65 Men’s Basketball Final Four Season” — Princeton Alumni Weekly

March Memories: The 1964–65 Men’s Basketball Final Four Season — Princeton Alumni Weekly

“A Whole Team Touched by Stardust” — Sports Illustrated

“Bill Bradley’s Farewell” — Princeton Alumni Weekly

The Year of the Tiger documentary — Mudd Library

“A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton” by John McPhee

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