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Monday, August 15, 2022

Remembering Pete Carril, Who Personified the Concept of the Smart Taking from the Strong

Revered basketball coach Pete Carril passed away earlier today at the age of 92. Carril led Princeton to 13 Ivy League championships, the 1975 NIT Championship, and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. He posted a career record of 525-273, and he is the only college coach who won more than 500 games without providing any athletic scholarships. Carril prided himself on teaching, not recruiting.

He coached one season at Lehigh before coaching 29 seasons at Princeton. Carril's teams had losing records in only two of those 30 seasons. Perhaps Carril's most famous win as a head coach came in his final season, as Princeton upset defending national champion UCLA 43-41 in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. Prior to that, Carril's highly disciplined teams had come close to scoring big NCAA Tournament upsets on several occasions, including a 50-49 loss to number one seed Georgetown in 1989, and a 68-64 loss to Arkansas in 1990.

In 1997, Carril was inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. That same year, he wrote The Smart Take from the Strong, a 205 page book brimming with basketball (and life) wisdom. The book concludes with "Twenty-Five Little Things to Remember." I strongly recommend reading the book from cover to cover, but I will quote three of the "little things" to whet your appetite for more: 

"Every little thing counts; if not, why do it?"

"Watch the man in front of you. He shows you what to do."

"In trying to learn to do a specific thing, the specific thing is what you must practice. There is little transfer of learning."

After Carril retired from coaching Princeton, he served as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings for over a decade. I interviewed Coach Carril on April 1, 2005 in Cleveland, prior to the Kings routing the Cavaliers, 128-109; it was an honor to speak with one of the sport's legendary teachers/leaders, and I appreciate the wisdom that he shared with me that I could in turn share with my readers. One of the concepts from both his book and the interview that stuck with me the most is that when he was a head coach he began the season's first practices by just letting the players run around and play without providing guidance; the idea is that by the way that they play and by what they value while playing the players will show the coach what he needs to teach them, and how he can best guide them.

As we head deeper into the 21st century, we are losing many of the towering figures who made their marks in the 20th century, but hopefully this generation and the generations to follow will be wise enough to learn from the words and deeds of great leaders like Pete Carril and Bill Russell.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:49 PM



At Tuesday, August 16, 2022 7:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on the opening practice (just let them play and observe), reminds me of Phil J's trying to avoid taking timeouts, so as to let the players learn to deal with adversity on the court --> the common theme seems to be avoid overcoaching, right? only interject targeted messages... saw his Princeton team play once (when they were in top 10); amazing team, players seemed underrated too (remarkable ball-handling, passing, shooting), though his system probably accentuated their talents


At Tuesday, August 16, 2022 10:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Yes, the best coaches avoid overcoaching. I always laugh at the coaches who prowl up and down the sidelines screaming and carrying on when their teams are either up 20 or down 20--they may be great showmen/entertainers, but that is not coaching. Evaluating the talent that your team has and then preparing those players to maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses is coaching--and much of the real coaching takes place out of view of the public.


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