Pete Carrill, Legendary Princeton Basketball Coach

The Smart Take From the Strong

Pete Carrill, legendary Princeton basketball coach, wrote one of my favorite coaching books.  The name of the book is The Smart Take from the Strong is a play on the quote “The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong.”

When I was a young coach working at a very academic school, I read it multiple times. (The other book I read often during this time was My Life on a Napkin by Rick Majerus)

Pete Carrill, legendary princeton basketball coach
Carrill’s teams ran an intricate possession style centered on high percentage shots and tenacious team defense.  Their commitment to the fundamentals rivaled a John Wooden team. Every March you would see Princeton come close to upsetting one of the top teams in the nation in a low-scoring yet fascinating game.  In 1996 they defeated in UCLA in a famous upset.

The reason I bring this up now. I just read an article at The Wall Street Journal about Pete Carrill’s style and its influence on the current NBA.

It’s an interesting read.

Lay Ups and 3-Pointers

Most people would attribute his success to a style predicated on strong  fundamentals on both sides of the ball.  The truth is he was also creative and progressive.

As an example, he committed to the importance of the 3-point shot early. As in right away. The article indicates he was focusing on the shot while the line was still taped to the court, before schools had had a chance to paint the line permanently into the court.

Carrill was bullish on his 3-p0inters. “I love the 3-point shot, he once wrote, You know why? Because they’re giving us three points for the same shot they used to give us two.”

He preferred 3-pointers and lay ups to the mid-range shots.

Carrill recognized early that 3-pointers were more valuable on the score sheet, but also psychologically. Teams worked hard to shut down his team’s strong ability to get to the basket on a back door pass or a lay up, only to give up a more valuable 3-point shot. This could be demoralizing.

Influence on the NBA

The Journal article describes an NBA now hewing closely to Pete Carrill’s philosophy and style of play.

That’s fascinating.

A style literally created in order to allow the “smart to beat the strong”  now adopted at the highest level. It makes sense in some ways. The style is about efficiency more than anything else.

Oddly the biggest critic of this trend is Carrill himself. Not because his belief in the style has changed, but rather he thinks it hurts the game if all the teams play the exact same way.

Carrill believes that so many teams playing the same way, even if it’s his way, isn’t good for the game.

There are so many threes, he say, that it could be uninteresting.

That was something he never had to worry about at Princeton.

Pete Carrill, Legendary Princeton Basketball Coach


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