Prince George

Hoyas' Thompson has taken Carril's offense and run with it

Posted: March 30, 2007

PRINCETON, N.J. - Pete Carril, 76, was seated at a table in the Princeton Diner on Route 1 Tuesday morning when the "Princeton offense" came up.

"I resent the use of the words 'Princeton offense,' " Carril, not coaching this year for the first time in more than a half-century, said. "At first, it was like a novelty, made you feel good."

Now?

"I'd like to see them bury that name, the Princeton offense," Carril said. "I'm ready to get the shovel out, get the casket, let's get a skeleton in there and throw them in the ground."

There will be no ceremony this weekend, not with Georgetown, coached by one of Carril's favorite players and people, John Thompson III, in the Final Four.

"If you don't have real good players, the Princeton offense isn't going to help at all," Carril said.

But if you do, you win the Big East, you come from 10 points down in the final 6 minutes against North Carolina in the East Regional final (and then play a perfect overtime), you win 19 of your last 20 and you get to play Ohio State tomorrow at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. What are these Hoyas doing?

"It's the Georgetown offense with a Princeton connection," Carril allowed.

Still, the Princeton offense? What is it, really?

"It's one-third Boston Celtics during the good old days when they were passing and cutting, one-third the Knick offense [from the early 1970s] and one-third was what I developed over the course of the years trying to do those things," Carril said.

He had a play called the "Celtic" and another called the "Knick." They are still around.

"You might not get Sam Jones coming off the screen to bank one in, so you stop there and go to the next sequence," Carril said. "If this wasn't working, we went to the next thing."

All options had options. They still do, whatever it's called.

"It's an accent on development of skills, not any of this phony stuff that goes on like slide drills for defense," Carril said. "If you want to improve your defense, guard a man."

Carril played at Liberty High in Bethlehem, coached at Easton High before a memorable stint at Reading High in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was the coach for one season at Lehigh before his legendary 29-year run at Princeton that culminated with the backdoor layup that eliminated defending national champion UCLA in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.

After Princeton, he spent a decade as a Sacramento Kings assistant. He came back to his house in Princeton every summer. Now, he is just back.

In Princeton these days, Georgetown is referred to as the "varsity." If you saw the Tigers play this season, you understand. Carril was at most Princeton home games. And he was at several Georgetown games.

"There is a cerebral element to the way they play," Carril said. "They do a little probing. They take the fastbreak when they have it. They can play any style. The former Princeton offense, now dead and buried, was designed to get you to play against anybody."

Georgetown can play against anybody.

And the Hoyas coach, Carril said, "gets along with everybody. He never forgets his friends. The guy has started to make his mark and it will increase as time goes on."

In mid-January, Georgetown was at Rutgers and Seton Hall. Thompson brought his team to Princeton for a practice.

"They came out of the woodwork, the janitors, the cooks, the trainers, everybody came out here because he's that way," Carril said.

Thompson played for Princeton a generation ago. He wasn't a star, but Princeton was never really about stars.

"As a player, he could see the entire picture," Carril said. "He was a great passer, but did not want to shoot."

One day, Carril watched Thompson being pressed while at Gonzaga High in Wasington.

"He threw one pass to beat the press," Carril remembered. "He knew where to go. That's the best sign."

Thompson still knows.

"His understanding of the game is fantastic," Carril said. "When he looks out on the court to see what's going on, he knows what plays to call to take care of problems."

It is a gift that he got from Carril.

"If you're a good teacher and you're not an envious-type person, you'd like any student you had to do better than you did," Carril said.

Carril won't be on the sidelines at the Final Four, but will feel very much a part of it.

"Even though you never went there yourself, you share the same feeling," Carril said. "[Thompson] makes you feel that way."

Thompson spent much of the early part of this season experimenting. By March, he had his team ready. The players had developed their skills. They were a team in every sense of the term.

Thompson was a first-year assistant on Carril's final Princeton team. He was an assistant with Bill Carmody for 4 more years before taking over as the head coach in 2000-01. After 68 wins in four seasons, he was off to Georgetown in 2004.

Carril was at Continental Airlines Arena on Sunday when the Hoyas upset North Carolina in the East Regional final. He won't be in Atlanta tomorrow, but would really like to be. He will be watching.

He is being inducted into the Berks County Hall of Fame on Sunday in Reading. Many of his former Reading High players will be there so he can't miss it. If Georgetown wins tomorrow, Carril might find his way to Atlanta for Monday's championship game.

Following breakfast, after a thought morphed into a story - looking back, remembering names, going over details from games 30 years old - Carril was due to be interviewed on WFAN radio in New York. He left his cell phone on the table, but the waitress rescued it.

"I'd love to see some of the calls made on that cell phone," said the man at the register.

And then Carril was off, talking on the radio, trying to convince the host that he never really invented anything and explaining that the man he once coached, the one who will be coaching in the Final Four, was always a step ahead in his understanding of the game. Now that coach, John Thompson III, has his team a step from the national championship game. *

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