Princeton Offense Keeps Hoyas on the Move

Former coach Pete Carril, who invented the Princeton offense, often had the last laugh about its effectiveness. It also has been popular in the NBA.
Former coach Pete Carril, who invented the Princeton offense, often had the last laugh about its effectiveness. It also has been popular in the NBA. (1996 Photo By Tom Russo -- Assocated Press)
By Mike Wise
Thursday, March 23, 2006

There is an ongoing sociological experiment inside the Georgetown athletic department. It is a coming together of culture and style that serves to refute any misguided perception about which college basketball team milks a clock for a good shot and why.

John Thompson III would rather keep the discussion simple and say his team is "just playing ball." Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Carmelo Anthony -- former prolific scorers from the same conference -- might call it heresy.

Either way, an Ivy League passing game is flourishing at a Big East school, A.I.'s alma mater, at that.

It is the Princeton offense -- on steroids. It is about precise and purposeful cutting, moving without the basketball and creating deception and confusion in a span of 35 seconds. It is the most aesthetically appeasing offense in the pro and college game today, and it is dissecting very good teams in the NCAA tournament.

It was brought to Georgetown by Thompson, a former player and disciple of former Princeton coach Pete Carril, the mad-scientist looking character who invented it. The Hoyas are taking apart squads so well that befuddled players from Ohio State and Northern Iowa will watch from their couches this weekend while Thompson and his players play Florida in the round of 16.

Many kids still don't understand how the gray jersey they had locked down on the wing changed direction in a blink and caught a threaded bounce pass for a layup. They all must wonder, deep down: "How come Backdoor U. is still playing and we're out?"

That's easy. The Hoyas are a smarter, more cohesive and patient basketball team. In an increasingly I-gotta-get-mine, sneaker-deal world, they bought into a system of five teammates playing as one. They long ago tuned out the "Georgetown-plays-boring" lament and kept learning and winning.

And here's the crazy part: If any of them harbors NBA dreams, this offense is helping them more than erupting for 25 points per night elsewhere.

"A lot of people say, 'Young black kids don't like that offense.' I don't buy that," said Caron Butler, the Wizards forward who learned the offense this season. "I think it's all young kids on the playground, period. They want to run and dunk and have that freedom to score. What they don't realize is, once you learn this offense, that freedom goes to another level."

There is no hard evidence that rival coaches have slighted Georgetown's offense in recruiting wars, but when college basketball is seen as an NBA audition by so many youngsters, the thought is you must get yours in college. Who's drafting a kid averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists?

Worse, such thinking embraces a warped stereotype.

"People try to associate it with patterns and discipline and they wrongly conclude that's not what black kids want," said the coach's father, John Thompson Jr. "That's just [expletive]. People tend to think African American kids don't want discipline. They just want to run and dunk.

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