Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

March 21, 2001:
Miracle moment
Maybe there was no miracle, but Princeton's NCAA appearance was a gift

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 kidding me?

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 at cwtooke@princeton.edu