PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Maybe there was no miracle, but Princeton's NCAA appearance was
As a long-time fan of
the Boston Red Sox, I have learned a number of techniques for dealing
with failure. When teams I root for go into giddy nose-dives, falling
into month-long swoons that plunge them from the top of the table
to Yale-like levels of incompetence, I shrug my shoulders. When
a franchise like the Celtics goes from being the benchmark of NBA
excellence to a league joke in just a few seasons, I wonder idly
if that's the worst the fates can do.
But what I am not accustomed
to -- what sends me into long bouts of utter confusion -- are seasons
of unexpected success. So I have found the last few months to be
very trying. My expectations for Princeton basketball this year
hovered somewhere around my expectations of President Bush: I was
just hoping the Tigers wouldn't embarrass us too badly. After all,
when any basketball team loses its two stars, has no true center,
and is breaking in a coach with his first head job, the end result
is almost always disastrous.
The season opened on
exactly the kind of dismal note I had anticipated. Losing to Duke
didn't particularly upset me -- that would be a tough first game
on any team's schedule-but getting blown out by Monmouth hurt. A
lot. For most of December and January I avoided the ESPN.com college
basketball page on the theory of what I didn't know couldn't hurt
me, and I took an unnatural interest in the swimming and wrestling
teams. But after seven intense years of following Princeton basketball,
my body has acquired an internal clock, and when we entered the
month of February, I started to get jumpy on Tuesday evenings.
And then it happened.
The Tigers went into the Palestra and spanked Penn, and I was lost.
Not even that painful next weekend, when we got destroyed by Columbia
and Cornell could erase what the Penn game had started. I screamed
obscenities at Chris Berman when he announced that Brown or Yale
would win the Ivy League, rejoiced as we won four straight games
to take the Ivy League lead, and practically swooned when I saw
the box score from the second Penn game. After a short and painful
exile, Princeton had returned to the NCAA tournament.
The seeding committee,
of course, did not do us any favors. When I first saw the brackets,
three questions instantly popped into my head:
1) So, what do you suppose
Mitch Henderson and Steve Goodrich are doing these days?
2) Has anyone checked
to make sure that Chris Young really signed that contract?
3) UNC? Are you bleeping
Upon mature reflection,
however, I decided that things would be okay. In fact, this year
bore an uncanny resemblance to the 1988-89 season, when Princeton
nearly upset Georgetown in the decade's best game. The fact that
John Thompson III '88 was coaching the Tigers only added to my growing
conviction that another miracle could be in the works.
There was, of course,
no miracle in New Orleans -- other than that this scrappy, undersized
team got a chance to play at all. This season was an unexpected
gift to followers of Princeton basketball. Many thanks to all the
players and coaches who gave even this cynical Red Sox fan a reason
to be optimistic.
You can reach Wes Tooke