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TOPIC: Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball

Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246144

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By BEN COHEN

Updated March 7, 2017 / Wall Street Journal

Pete Carril likes what he sees when he turns on NBA League Pass these days. He admires the ball movement. He appreciates the floor spacing. He applauds the unprecedented display of 3-point shooting

But there’s a reason it’s easy for Carril to enjoy watching the NBA’s best teams. It’s because the NBA’s best teams now play like his old Princeton teams.

“You’d have to be blind as a bat not to notice that,” he said.


Carril, the 86-year-old basketball sage known as “Yoda,” was the architect of an eccentric offense designed to give his Ivy League school a chance against more talented teams, which was almost every team it played. But his work was always seen as part brilliance, part gimmick—even when Carril retired in 1996. Only since then has something unexpected happened.

It has become clear in recent years, as basketball has evolved, that Carril was ahead of his time.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t running backdoor cuts, and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t running down the entire shot clock. But in many ways, the game has caught up to Carril. The trends of today’s NBA are the same as his ideas from decades ago.

Carril on 3-pointers: “I love the 3-point shot,” he once wrote. “You know why? Because it means they’re giving us three points for the same shot we used to get two for.”

Carril on big men who could play small ball: “All five guys could step outside and make a 3-point shot,” said Bob Scrabis, who played for him in the 1980s. “If you couldn’t shoot, you couldn’t play.”

Carril on mid-range shots: “If you charted our shooting and looked at how many shots were layups or 3-point shots,” said Princeton alumnus Matt Lapin, “it had to have been 90%. And maybe even higher.”

NBA teams play the way Carril always believed the game should be played because they have data that proves it works. But that information wasn’t available when Carril was coaching. And others were curious about Princeton’s unusual style. Carill still recalls one clinic when former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson cornered him to ask why Princeton only seemed to shoot high-percentage, highly efficient shots: 3-pointers and layups. “We didn’t have that in-between shot,” Carril said.

They also didn’t have the pace of today’s NBA. That’s the big difference between Princeton and its descendants. NBA teams push the tempo. Princeton squashed it.




But even now, when the league is faster and more athletic than ever, the principles of the Princeton offense are plain to see. They been adapted by the current generation and amplified for the modern game.

“There’s a very strong correlation between what’s going on in the NBA and what’s been espoused here for a long time,” said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson.

This, of course, sounds crazy. Princeton’s system became synonymous with killing the clock, torturing defenses with backdoor cuts and generally playing as if the hoops were still peach baskets. But that perception of the Princeton offense as a relic always bugged the people who knew it best. “We had to combat the idea that the Princeton offense was about slowing the game down,” Henderson said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.”



The real idea powering the Princeton offense was simple: take good shots. Princeton got those good shots by creating space on the court, often by moving traditional post players out to the perimeter, and passing the ball until someone was open for a three or layup. That might sound familiar to anyone who has seen an NBA game lately.

It was contrarian then, but it’s common sense now, which only makes it more remarkable that Carril’s ideas weren’t incorporated earlier. And the most innovative part of the Princeton offense was Carril’s early adoption of the 3-pointer.

The 3-point line was introduced to college basketball in the 1987 season, and it played right into Princeton’s existing strategy. Carril’s team was already shooting from deep. But those shots were suddenly worth more.

“The 3-point line,” Scrabis said, “worked so much to our advantage.”


Carril encouraged his players to take advantage of 3-pointers even when that line was only taped on the court. “They literally had not incorporated it into the floor yet,” Lapin said. Carril didn’t care. He would stop practice if he saw a player’s toe on the arc and make him inch backward. He also shot 3-pointers in practice. “Just to prove a point,” he said. It didn’t matter how far away a player was far from the basket. He was allowed to shoot as long as he was open.

In that first season, when other coaches were still debating whether the 3-point line would destroy basketball, Carril’s team launched 30% of its shots from behind the arc. Two years later, it was 42%. Two more years later, nearly half of Princeton’s shots were threes.

That would be a record in the NBA this season. It was completely radical in 1991. The average team in the NCAA tournament that year depended on threes for 22% of its shots. No other team was above 37%. Princeton was at 48%. They were analytically savvy before anyone knew what that meant.

Carril’s teams also understood before anyone in basketball that a 3-pointer could be worth more than three points. It had a psychological effect that couldn’t be quantified. They made defenses worry about backdoor layups only to see Princeton sink a more valuable shot instead. “It was demoralizing to other teams,” Scrabis said.


Even as his ideas have become popular, though, Carril isn’t basking in credit. The former Sacramento Kings assistant is a fan of the Warriors and especially the San Antonio Spurs, “because no matter who’s there,” he said, “they’re true to the way they play.” But he also worries about the future of basketball. Carril believes that teams playing the same way—even if it’s his way—isn’t necessarily good for the game.

“There are so many threes,” he said, “that it could be uninteresting.”

There are even more threes in college basketball. Princeton, the No. 1 seed in the inaugural Ivy League tournament this weekend, led its conference in 3-point reliance in a season when the Ivy League had the highest proportion of 3-pointers of any conference in history.

But the 3-pointer has always been the slingshot that basketball Davids use to beat Goliaths—especially in the NCAA tournament. The single-elimination format incentivizes the underdog to decrease possessions and increase variance by holding the ball, firing away from beyond the arc and hoping it’s a day when those shots fall.

That was the blueprint, in fact, for the biggest win of Carril’s career.

Princeton beating the defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 tournament is remembered every March for the funny-looking final score: 43-41. But overlooked was the statistical anomaly that explained the upset: Princeton took 46 shots that day—and 27 of them were threes.



Princeton spread the defense and cleared space around the rim by dragging UCLA’s players out to the 3-point line. That paid off on its final possession. Steve Goodrich caught the ball at the top of the key and passed to Gabe Lewullis for a game-winning layup. UCLA didn’t have anyone near the basket to slam the backdoor.

After the Princeton bucket, the television cameras panned to the shocked UCLA bench, and they found the perfect shot: a player chewing his shirt in disbelief.

Many years later, as the NBA was emerging from its age of isolation offense, that player was hired by a front office. He happened to build a team that shares the ball, stretches the floor, switches positions and shoots an enormous amount of 3-pointers. His name is Bob Myers, and he’s the general manager of the Golden State Warriors.

Write to Ben Cohen at
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246150

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jerseyshorejohnny wrote:
By BEN COHEN

Updated March 7, 2017 / Wall Street Journal

Pete Carril likes what he sees when he turns on NBA League Pass these days. He admires the ball movement. He appreciates the floor spacing. He applauds the unprecedented display of 3-point shooting

But there’s a reason it’s easy for Carril to enjoy watching the NBA’s best teams. It’s because the NBA’s best teams now play like his old Princeton teams.

“You’d have to be blind as a bat not to notice that,” he said.


Carril, the 86-year-old basketball sage known as “Yoda,” was the architect of an eccentric offense designed to give his Ivy League school a chance against more talented teams, which was almost every team it played. But his work was always seen as part brilliance, part gimmick—even when Carril retired in 1996. Only since then has something unexpected happened.

It has become clear in recent years, as basketball has evolved, that Carril was ahead of his time.

The Golden State Warriors aren’t running backdoor cuts, and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t running down the entire shot clock. But in many ways, the game has caught up to Carril. The trends of today’s NBA are the same as his ideas from decades ago.

Carril on 3-pointers: “I love the 3-point shot,” he once wrote. “You know why? Because it means they’re giving us three points for the same shot we used to get two for.”

Carril on big men who could play small ball: “All five guys could step outside and make a 3-point shot,” said Bob Scrabis, who played for him in the 1980s. “If you couldn’t shoot, you couldn’t play.”

Carril on mid-range shots: “If you charted our shooting and looked at how many shots were layups or 3-point shots,” said Princeton alumnus Matt Lapin, “it had to have been 90%. And maybe even higher.”

NBA teams play the way Carril always believed the game should be played because they have data that proves it works. But that information wasn’t available when Carril was coaching. And others were curious about Princeton’s unusual style. Carill still recalls one clinic when former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson cornered him to ask why Princeton only seemed to shoot high-percentage, highly efficient shots: 3-pointers and layups. “We didn’t have that in-between shot,” Carril said.

They also didn’t have the pace of today’s NBA. That’s the big difference between Princeton and its descendants. NBA teams push the tempo. Princeton squashed it.




But even now, when the league is faster and more athletic than ever, the principles of the Princeton offense are plain to see. They been adapted by the current generation and amplified for the modern game.

“There’s a very strong correlation between what’s going on in the NBA and what’s been espoused here for a long time,” said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson.

This, of course, sounds crazy. Princeton’s system became synonymous with killing the clock, torturing defenses with backdoor cuts and generally playing as if the hoops were still peach baskets. But that perception of the Princeton offense as a relic always bugged the people who knew it best. “We had to combat the idea that the Princeton offense was about slowing the game down,” Henderson said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.”



The real idea powering the Princeton offense was simple: take good shots. Princeton got those good shots by creating space on the court, often by moving traditional post players out to the perimeter, and passing the ball until someone was open for a three or layup. That might sound familiar to anyone who has seen an NBA game lately.

It was contrarian then, but it’s common sense now, which only makes it more remarkable that Carril’s ideas weren’t incorporated earlier. And the most innovative part of the Princeton offense was Carril’s early adoption of the 3-pointer.

The 3-point line was introduced to college basketball in the 1987 season, and it played right into Princeton’s existing strategy. Carril’s team was already shooting from deep. But those shots were suddenly worth more.

“The 3-point line,” Scrabis said, “worked so much to our advantage.”


Carril encouraged his players to take advantage of 3-pointers even when that line was only taped on the court. “They literally had not incorporated it into the floor yet,” Lapin said. Carril didn’t care. He would stop practice if he saw a player’s toe on the arc and make him inch backward. He also shot 3-pointers in practice. “Just to prove a point,” he said. It didn’t matter how far away a player was far from the basket. He was allowed to shoot as long as he was open.

In that first season, when other coaches were still debating whether the 3-point line would destroy basketball, Carril’s team launched 30% of its shots from behind the arc. Two years later, it was 42%. Two more years later, nearly half of Princeton’s shots were threes.

That would be a record in the NBA this season. It was completely radical in 1991. The average team in the NCAA tournament that year depended on threes for 22% of its shots. No other team was above 37%. Princeton was at 48%. They were analytically savvy before anyone knew what that meant.

Carril’s teams also understood before anyone in basketball that a 3-pointer could be worth more than three points. It had a psychological effect that couldn’t be quantified. They made defenses worry about backdoor layups only to see Princeton sink a more valuable shot instead. “It was demoralizing to other teams,” Scrabis said.


Even as his ideas have become popular, though, Carril isn’t basking in credit. The former Sacramento Kings assistant is a fan of the Warriors and especially the San Antonio Spurs, “because no matter who’s there,” he said, “they’re true to the way they play.” But he also worries about the future of basketball. Carril believes that teams playing the same way—even if it’s his way—isn’t necessarily good for the game.

“There are so many threes,” he said, “that it could be uninteresting.”

There are even more threes in college basketball. Princeton, the No. 1 seed in the inaugural Ivy League tournament this weekend, led its conference in 3-point reliance in a season when the Ivy League had the highest proportion of 3-pointers of any conference in history.

But the 3-pointer has always been the slingshot that basketball Davids use to beat Goliaths—especially in the NCAA tournament. The single-elimination format incentivizes the underdog to decrease possessions and increase variance by holding the ball, firing away from beyond the arc and hoping it’s a day when those shots fall.

That was the blueprint, in fact, for the biggest win of Carril’s career.

Princeton beating the defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the 1996 tournament is remembered every March for the funny-looking final score: 43-41. But overlooked was the statistical anomaly that explained the upset: Princeton took 46 shots that day—and 27 of them were threes.



Princeton spread the defense and cleared space around the rim by dragging UCLA’s players out to the 3-point line. That paid off on its final possession. Steve Goodrich caught the ball at the top of the key and passed to Gabe Lewullis for a game-winning layup. UCLA didn’t have anyone near the basket to slam the backdoor.

After the Princeton bucket, the television cameras panned to the shocked UCLA bench, and they found the perfect shot: a player chewing his shirt in disbelief.

Many years later, as the NBA was emerging from its age of isolation offense, that player was hired by a front office. He happened to build a team that shares the ball, stretches the floor, switches positions and shoots an enormous amount of 3-pointers. His name is Bob Myers, and he’s the general manager of the Golden State Warriors.

Write to Ben Cohen at

I wonder if Mr. Cohen ever heard of Red Holzman? :)
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246151

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It's a little bit of nonsense. The game has always been about spacing, about ball movement, about getting the easiest high percentage shot.

It's always been taught that the fastest way to move the ball around the court is to pass it.

Princeton couldn't pound the ball inside because they didn't have access to talented big men in D1, in part because of the academic rigors of classwork at Princeton that limited the pool of guys they could recruit. So he wasn't really ahead of his time - he made due with what he had - guys who could make open shots from the perimeter, crisp ball movement and cuts an screens that resulted in easier shots. He also played before the era of the shot clock, which means that his very smart players could both shorten the game by holding the ball longer, and also to wait until that good shot became available.

Smart coach? Absolutely. Visionary - not exactly.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketb 4 months 2 weeks ago #246156

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Carill brought his Princeton team to Alumni Hall in what I think was Mullin's first year and with an outmanned squad and no shot clock held the ball without trying to score for multi possessions resulting in a game that was about as boring as you could imagine unless you were a Princeton fan.
I think the final was SJU 44-40 and while it was the best strategy Princeton could utilize the game was terrible for the fans. Games like this resulted in the shot clock and I don't think SJU scheduled them again for quite a while.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246158

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Thanks for the story. Although Princeton wasn't exactly the Warriors in the day. No shot clock meant Princeton bled time off the clock and could play some tedious and at times boring basketball. All within the rules but at times boring to watch.

My best memories of Carrill was seeing him play coaches v coaches (at basketball camp) with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Short guy, cigar hanging out going mano y mano with Rollie Massimino. By the way, I can't believe he is still alive. He looked about 80 30 years ago! Or maybe it was my 16 year old eyes.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketb 4 months 2 weeks ago #246162

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Enright wrote:
Carill brought his Princeton team to Alumni Hall in what I think was Mullin's first year and with an outmanned squad and no shot clock held the ball without trying to score for multi possessions resulting in a game that was about as boring as you could imagine unless you were a Princeton fan.
I think the final was SJU 44-40 and while it was the best strategy Princeton could utilize the game was terrible for the fans. Games like this resulted in the shot clock and I don't think SJU scheduled them again for quite a while.

St John's lost to Princeton 47-46 at Alumni the year before Mullin matriculated. They beat Princeton 42-37 in Mullin's first year at Jadwin Colliseum in NJ. They beat Princeton 58-46 at CA Mullin's sophomore year. There do not seem to be any games after that.

www.sports-reference.com/cbb/schools/st-...y/1983-schedule.html

PS Carill was a genius. That JT III claims to run his offense is heretical.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246163

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www.sports-reference.com/cbb/schools/st-...y/1983-schedule.html

Actually the game at Alumni appears to be in Mullin's second year and was high scoring compared to the game at Princeton the year before. However the worst for STJ was the year before Mullin's first year when they apparently lost to Princeton in Alumni.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246177

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Archibishop Molloy ran a similar offense in the years I saw them play with really good players like John Lowenhaupt (William and Mary), Whitey Rigsby (Villanova), Jim Gooch, Richie Hill (SJU baseball star), and Billy Clarke (SJU Bball). Heck of a HS team and ran a clinic on offense.
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Pete Carril Saw The Future of Basketball 4 months 2 weeks ago #246199

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Beast of the East wrote:
Archibishop Molloy ran a similar offense in the years I saw them play with really good players like John Lowenhaupt (William and Mary), Whitey Rigsby (Villanova), Jim Gooch, Richie Hill (SJU baseball star), and Billy Clarke (SJU Bball). Heck of a HS team and ran a clinic on offense.

Very impressive memory Beast. I met Whitey Rigsby as he was a camp counselor at Jack Curran's camp.

Also, I had a late friend of mine who played with/against Richie Hill. Hill was apparently a good pitcher. He said that Hill had the talent to go farther with his talent but for some reason or another didn't quite make it. I searched on the internet but could never find anything. I was wondering if you know what happened to him?
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