November 19, 2003: Sports

Finding the championship formula
Tigers eye Ivy hoops title with a mixture of youth and experience

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Photo: Judson Wallace ’05 was an honorable-mention All-Ivy forward in 2002—03. (Beverly Schaefer)

Finding the championship formula
Tigers eye Ivy hoops title with a mixture of youth and experience

By Matt Henshon ’91

When a new coach takes over a college basketball program, it often takes three or four years for him to put his own stamp on the team. This year’s men’s basketball team will clearly reflect the style of John Thompson III ’88, who enters his fourth year as coach of the Tigers.

Not that Thompson’s first three seasons have been unimpressive, with a combined 32—11 Ivy record, one outright Ivy title in 2001, and a share of the title in 2002. His record stacks up comparably with the standard set by his two predecessors, Pete Carril (35—8 Ivy record, with one outright and one shared Ivy title in his first three years, 1968—70) and Bill Carmody (39-3 Ivy record, with two Ivy titles during 1997—99.)

Thompson’s regular-season record outside of the league, five games under .500, reflects a commitment to test his team with difficult out-of-conference games. “We want the opportunity to play as strong and as difficult a schedule as possible,” he says. “This year we finish with three games on the road [at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Penn], and the league race always seems to come down to that last weekend. We want our guys to be as prepared as possible to win in hostile environments.” The Tigers will face a series of elite programs on the road early in the season at Duke, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.

While Thompson will continue to run the “Princeton offense” that has become increasingly popular in recent years, he will look to add some talented young players to an experienced core. To replace Kyle Wente ’03 and Ray Robins ’03 (both honorable-mention All-Ivy last year), Thompson will rely upon three returning starters: guards Ed Persia ’04 (8.6 points per game, 2.4 assists per game) and Will Venable ’05 (10.6 ppg), and forward Judson Wallace ’05 (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rebounds per game). Wallace, in particular, showed improvement at the end of last season, and Thompson also expects significant contributions from center Konrad Wysocki ’04 (5.9 ppg). Andre Logan ’04 (9.9 ppg in limited action over the last two seasons) is recuperating from hand and knee injuries.

The Tigers will be relying on the freshman class, as they did in 2000—01, when then-freshmen Persia, Wysocki, and Logan helped Nate Walton ’01 win the title. Street and Smith’s has called Princeton’s Class of 2007 “the best in the Ivy.” Forward Harrison Schaen (6'8") heads the group, with forward Luke Owings (6'5") and guard Max Schafer (6'1") also pushing for playing time. “The newcomers are definitely talented,” Thompson says, “but we need to find a way to mesh their strengths with the kids that are coming back.”

Many of the other top-tier teams in the Ivy League also are relying on newcomers, and because of that, the top half of the league looks unusually balanced. Two-time defending champion Penn lost three starters, including all-Ivy forwards Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong. The Quakers have added two transfers and still will be a factor in the race.

Two years ago, Yale tied for a share of the league title, was invited to the N.I.T., and won its opening round game. Last year, despite returning most of their starters, the Bulldogs failed to meet high expectations and fell back to fourth place (8—6). Brown, like Yale’s 2002 team, vaulted toward the top of the league last year with a second-place finish (12—2) and the school’s first N.I.T. berth, but they will have to overcome the loss of graduating senior Earl Hunt, the top scorer in the Ivy last year. Cornell, led by former Penn assistant coach Steve Donohue, could be this year’s Ivy upstart, with four starters returning.

The rest of the league – Harvard, Dartmouth, and Columbia – are not likely to factor into the championship race, although each hopes to improve on last year, when the bottom half of the league (those three and Cornell) went a combined 0—32 against the top half. Eleven or 12 wins should be enough to win a balanced Ivy League; as usual, even though both start the season untested, Penn and Princeton seem to have the firepower to win. But Yale, Brown, and Cornell will add challenges to the title chase.

Matt Henshon ’91 practices law in Boston.

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Photo: Jon Veach ’05 caught the first of Matt Verbit ’05’s three touchdown passes against Cornell. (Beverly Schaefer)
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In FOOTBALL’s November 1 home game against Cornell, the Tigers’ defense gave Princeton the ball inside the Big Red’s 35-yard line twice in the first quarter, and quarterback Matt Verbit ’05 responded, tossing a pair of touchdown passes in a 30-second span to spark a 28—6 victory.

Verbit, who threw for 239 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, also stood out in the previous week’s game at Harvard, with a career-best 354 passing yards. But the Crimson outlasted the Tigers in overtime, 43—40.

With the win over Cornell, Princeton improved to 2—2 in the Ivy (2-5 overall).

For complete game coverage, go to PAW ONLINE at

With a 3—2 win over Harvard on October 25, FIELD HOCKEY clinched at least a share of the Ivy League Champ-ionship for the 10th consecutive season. Allison Nemeth ’07 was named the league’s Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week on October 21 after saving 12 shots in a 2—1 win over Old Dominion, and shutting out Brown, 2—0.

MEN’S WATER POLO won three times in a four-match home stand, October 17 to 19, improving to 17—3 and climbing to 11th place in the Collegiate Water Polo Association poll. Goalie Peter Sabbatini ’05 was named Most Valuable Player in the E.C.A.C.

WOMEN’S CROSS-COUNTRY outran Mid-Atlantic powers Georgetown and Villanova at the Pre-National Invitational on October 18, earning the top ranking in its region (14th in the nation).

A pair of October 25 games at Harvard hurt Princeton’s Ivy title chances in MEN’S and WOMEN’S SOCCER. The women tied the Crimson 1—1 and remained in second place behind Dartmouth, while the men lost 2—0, dropping into a tie for fifth.

ARMOND HILL ’85 began his first season as an assistant coach with the N.B.A.’s Atlanta Hawks in October. Hill, the 1976 Ivy League Player of the Year and a member of Princeton’s 1975 N.I.T. Championship team, played eight seasons in the N.B.A., including six with the Hawks. He was the head coach at Columbia for the last eight years.

The Montreal Expos chose CHRIS YOUNG ’02 to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, a developmental program for Major League Baseball prospects. Young, one of six alumni in the minor leagues last summer, posted a 2.31 earned run average in his first three starts for the Peoria [Arizona] Javelinas.

By B.T.

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