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IT ALL STARTS HERE
Grant Wahl
February 17, 2003
Hatched in New Jersey decades ago by irascible genius Pete Carril, the intricate ballet of the PRINCETON OFFENSE is suddenly the height of hoop fashion, winning games and converts from sixth grade to the NBA
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February 17, 2003

It All Starts Here

Hatched in New Jersey decades ago by irascible genius Pete Carril, the intricate ballet of the PRINCETON OFFENSE is suddenly the height of hoop fashion, winning games and converts from sixth grade to the NBA

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"It was easy to apply to the NBA game," Scott says. "It just came down to finding the right team to do it. When we made the trade for Jason [Kidd], I thought it would work. We had a point guard who could run it, who was bright enough to understand the ins and outs of the offense. As long as you can get your star player to buy into the system, everyone else will follow."

Sure enough, Kidd thrived in the offense, and so did the Nets. Scott and Jordan made only a few tweaks in Carril's sets, throwing backdoor lobs to the rim instead of bounce passes, setting up guards for post-ups and occasional pick-and-rolls, and relying more on the passing of Kidd than on the traditional Princeton-style center. The Nets could easily segue from the fast break into their five-man motion. Displaying remarkable balance—their top three scorers averaged between 14.7 and 14.9 points a game—the Nets won 52 games, doubling their total from the previous year. The Los Angeles Lakers may have won their third straight NBA title, but New Jersey was the story of the season.

The fourth and final sale—to skeptical NBA observers—had been made on the floor. While Carril would have preferred that his Kings (who were knocked out by the Lakers) had reached the Finals, he could take heart in the appearance of two Princeton offense teams in the NBA's final four. He had been right all along. "I've been watching NBA games for the last 50 years," Carril says, "and the number of times I heard the word backdoor the last two years exceeds the total of those other 48 years combined."

In December, Bill Carmody and Northwestern returned to Raleigh to play N.C. State. The Wolfpack won the battle of Princeton offenses easily 74-49, but the most telling statistic was this: N.C. State did not allow a single backdoor layup. "We knew exactly what they were going to do," Wolfpack guard Julius Hodge explained afterward. Is the novelty already gone? Was Hodge confirming Carmody's worst fear? The secret is out, after all. Even Carril has released a video detailing his philosophies. As Larry Hunter says, "I think you'll see all sorts of hybrids of this offense take off, just like you did with the motion offense."

Yet Carmody has hope. Remember, the innovators can always keep innovating. "Every day we're trying new stuff," he says. A smarter brand of basketball demands a more intelligent coach. Jimmy Tillette is fond of quoting Schopenhauer, Plato and Kant in his press conferences. Herb Sendek graduated from Carnegie-Mellon with a 3.95 grade point average. Jim Burson has a Ph.D.

Carril's own book is called The Smart Take from the Strong, though it's safe to say he's tickled that the masses now take from him. Handed a copy of Burson's Holy Grail, Master Yoda pulls on his glasses, leafs through the laser-printed pages and shakes his head. "Ay yi yi, this is unbelievable," he finally says, betraying a flicker of a smile. "Just goes to show you man's ingenuity."

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