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Princeton basketball head coach talks Pete Carril’s influence and Sweet 16 matchup with Creighton

Princeton basketball legend Pete Carril is set to be the focus of a new documentary on CBS this weekend, and the current men’s team has shown that many of his philosophies are alive and well in the program during their run to this year’s Sweet 16.

The Coaches+Media film “Think. See. Do. – The Legacy of Pete Carril” will shine a spotlight on the unique teachings and coaching career of the Princeton basketball icon. The film that debuts on CBS at 2 PM ET Saturday comes at a fortuitous time because the 2023 Princeton squad will have taken part in the school’s first Sweet 16 game the night before.

Related: College basketball games today – Get watch times for the next tournament games

The university has a special history in the NCAA Tournament as an Ivy League underdog that has often delivered surprises during March Madness. That again happened this year as head coach Mitch Henderson and his team added to that legacy by being just the fourth 15-seed in tourney history to bump off a No. 2 when they beat Arizona last week.

Pete Carril built a winning Princeton basketball culture on honesty and character

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Credit: USA Today Network

The Princeton basketball program has never been a breeding ground for future NBA stars, however, it has often been the home of smart athletes with great character. Having strong character and guts are tenets of the program to this day and were instilled in it by Carril.

Current head coach Mitch Henderson played for Carril in the early 1990s and remembers how the iconic coach’s style for honesty may not have always been nice, but it made for better players and men. Strength of character is something he looks for in his players now and it has shown in their performance during the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

“I think that his gift was that he told you the truth,” Henderson told Sportsnaut. “In front of your peers. Not easy to hear but what happened is you either shed a layer of skin, or what you were afraid of happening, or you took it personally. He had regrets about that in a way, but we didn’t. We appreciated it because it made the team closer. Some of the stuff he said could be humorous, right, or harsh. … He would often joke he was right 85% of the time.”

Craig Robinson, the Executive Director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and executive producer of “Think. See. Do.” also played for Pete Carril in the early 1980s and added to Henderson’s sentiments by explaining how philosophies the coach passed down to him were beneficial not just in the locker room, but for the rest of his life.

“Coach always thought if you were a jerk on the court, you were probably a jerk off the court, and vice versa,” Robinson told Sportsnaut. “And it was one of those things that I carried with me throughout my early development, my adult life, working in corporate America, and now as an executive, just how to sort of put your team together. You look for the kinds of people who just aren’t jerks. … It really was something that has helped me throughout my life.”

Mitch Henderson on Pete Carril: ‘He often thought great players make great people’

Carril left a lasting memory for many fans not just from Princeton basketball upsets in the NCAA Tournament, but by winning games in March Madness with his vaunted “Princeton offense.” It’s a scheme that still exists in ways for many offenses on the college and professional level today because it was all about technique and unselfish play. Ideas that never stop being useful in winning environments.

“When I first matriculated to Princeton, I thought [the Princeton offense] was a particular X and O type of offense where you had to figure out where to go. What it actually is, is a philosophical way of looking at the game. You give up the ball for someone else, move the ball, cut, pass, and you have to be able to see. You put all that together and that’s the Princeton offense,” says Robinson.

Pete Carril brought his legendary coaching career to a close after 30 seasons in 1996. He was a coach that cut his teeth at a very different time in sports and American life. He had an old-school mindset that some may think wouldn’t work in today’s current game and world. However, Henderson believes he would still be successful now because he was willing to adapt as long as his players were willing to be great teammates.

“The one thing he would not compromise on at all was basketball is a metaphor for life. If you had aspirations to do it your own way, he could be very convincing to you and your peers that this is the way we’re going to do it. He often thought great players make great people.”

– Mitch Henderson on Pete Carril

Princeton Tigers head coach on Sweet 16 matchup with Creighton

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Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Carril will certainly be mentioned as the Princeton Tigers basketball team again attempts to make history on Friday night by reaching the Elite Eight for the first time. Henderson believes his team is an outlier to previous Princeton squads and has done things a bit differently in overcoming talented teams like Arizona and Missouri in the tournament.

“The group has ultimate confidence in itself after what happened against Arizona and they’re playing with joy,” says Henderson. “They’re not playing like, ‘Oh man, we’re happy to be here.’ I say this with full respect for the former players of Princeton, but this group has done something that no one else has ever done, and they’re doing it in a fashion that’s making all the former players proud. There are moments of Carill everywhere [in their play] but, I’m just proud of them.”

The coach admits six-seed Creighton will be a tough test and players like Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner will pose difficult matchups. But Henderson feels the team will continue their hot streak and at the very least give their opponents the best version of Princeton basketball.

“A huge challenge is presenting itself for us, but we’re not afraid. Creighton’s a really tough matchup but I think the best version of us will come out on Friday night.”

– Mitch Henderson

“Think. See. Do. – The Legacy of Pete Carril” airs on CBS and Paramount+ at 2 PM ET on Saturday, and features in-depth interviews with college basketball luminaries including Jim Boeheim, Jay Wright, Bill Raftery & Alonzo Mourning.

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