March 8, 2017


Pete Carril Saw the Future of Basketball (BEN COHEN, March 7, 2017, WSJ)

Carril, the 86-year-old basketball sage known as "Yoda," was the architect of an eccentric offense designed to give his Ivy League school a chance against more talented teams, which was almost every team it played. But his work was always seen as part brilliance, part gimmick--even when Carril retired in 1996. Only since then has something unexpected happened.

It has become clear in recent years, as basketball has evolved, that Carril was ahead of his time.

The Golden State Warriors aren't running backdoor cuts, and the Cleveland Cavaliers aren't running down the entire shot clock. But in many ways, the game has caught up to Carril. The trends of today's NBA are the same as his ideas from decades ago.

Carril was bullish on 3-pointers. "I love the 3-point shot," he once wrote. "You know why? Because it means they're giving us three points for the same shot we used to get two for."

He valued big men who could play small ball. "All five guys could step outside and make a 3-point shot," said Bob Scrabis, who played for him in the 1980s. "If you couldn't shoot, you couldn't play."

He also hated mid-range shots. "If you charted our shooting and looked at how many shots were layups or 3-point shots," said Princeton alumnus Matt Lapin, "it had to have been 90%. And maybe even higher."

NBA teams play the way Carril always believed the game should be played because they have data that proves it works. But that information wasn't available when Carril was coaching. And others were curious about Princeton's unusual style. Carill still recalls one clinic when former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson cornered him to ask why Princeton only seemed to shoot high-percentage, highly efficient shots: 3-pointers and layups.

Posted by at March 8, 2017 12:39 PM