BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Two Ivy League institutions came to a valiant close 10 days ago in Bethlehem, Pa. One crumbled to the ground, finally beaten after putting up the fight of a lifetime. The other rode off into the NCAA sunset in a blaze of glory. Recently he has come to be known to one and all as Yoda. Too many fans these days think the moniker refers to Carril's goofy looking features, funny voice and age. Too many times of late, Carril the character has overshadowed Carril the coach. Part of Carril's charm is, without a doubt, the senile manner in which he carries himself. Without the trademark sweaters and the my-team-is-hopeless scowls, without that unmatched ability to find the most random topics to converse about with reporters, Carril would not be Carril. But Carril really earned the name Yoda because he is the closest thing to a Jedi Master that college basketball has had in recent memory. He performed the same wonders with his players that Yoda did with Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy. How else could a bunch of slow stiffs come within a botched no-call by an official of upsetting one of the all-time college basketball powerhouses in that 1989 Georgetown squad in the '89 NCAA tournament. Ten nights ago the Quakers were the victims of a little Jedi magic. In both regular-season games between the two teams, Penn forward Donald Moxley appeared to have taken the mantle of designated Princeton killer away from center Tim Krug. As the Tigers keyed on guard Ira Bowman and Krug, they seemed helpless to also stop Moxley, who led all Penn scorers in both games. So what does Carril do? He removes freshman phenom Brian Earl from the starting lineup and puts in fellow rookie Gabe Lewellus. He does it not as part of some grand plan, but on, he says, a hunch. Call it Jedi intuition. And what does Lewellus do in his first career start? He helps hold Moxley to an 0-for-14 performance from the field. Five days later, making another start, Lewellus backdoors UCLA's Charles O'Bannon into oblivion, scoring the winning basket on a layup in the final seconds of Princeton's first-round upset over the fourth-seeded Bruins. When the 65-year-old coach sensed the game was passing him by just a little too much, he stepped down without any prodding. But he still had a little bit of magic left in him, enough to dethrone the three-time defending Ivy League champions and the defending national champions all in one week. And what about those three-time defending Ivy League champs? They were an institution themselves, dominating the Ancient Eight as no school ever has and doing the league every bit as proud in the NCAAs as Carril's squad did this year. But after Sydney Johnson's shot-put style three-pointer touched nothing but net in the waning moments of overtime, the Quakers were just another runner-up. Or were they? That Penn failed in its task last Saturday is obvious. The Quakers came out inexcusably flat, scoring a horrid 17 points in the first half and digging themselves a hole they couldn't quite get out of. But when you think about what the Quakers endured this year, coming within a minute or so of a fourth-straight Ivy title is simply incredible. First five starters from the 1995 team graduated. That in itself could have been an insurmountable obstacle. Then George Zaninovich, thought to be a potential starter going into the season, left the team in the preseason. Then former Indiana Hoosier Rob Hodgson decided no, he didn't want to transfer to Penn after all. Four games into the year starting point guard Jamie Lyren went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Then Vigor Kapetanovic and Bill Guthrie, a key sub and a starter respectively, had to quit because of academics. Then starting forward Nat Graham quit for personal reasons. In this light, coach Fran Dunphy and senior co-captains Bowman and Krug deserve all the credit in the world for taking this team to the heights it reached. Indeed, it was only when Krug joined the above list of casualties by fouling out in overtime against Princeton that the Quakers finally succumbed. Before that, they had survived the mass exodus of personnel, plus the heartbreaking end of their record 48-game Ivy winning streak at Dartmouth, plus a ridiculous loss at Yale, plus the horrid start in Bethlehem against Princeton. That they had battled through that entire season of tribulation to take the lead over the Tigers in overtime and have the NCAAs directly in their sights is as noteworthy an accomplishment as anything this program has done the past few years. The quick forecast for next year: cloudy but with definite patches of sunshine. Having lost five starters to graduation last year, the Quakers must now bid farewell to their three best starters -- Bowman, Krug and Moxley -- plus sixth-man Cedric Laster. That may be too much for any program to endure in a span of two years. Then again, it may not be. Freshman Paul Romanczuk and sophomore Garett Kreitz, neither of whom could ever have imagined playing so much this year, will be back starting. The wars they have endured this season will stand them in good stead in the future. Talented seventh-man Frankie Brown will be back too. And don't forget Lyren and George Mboya, the Rice transfer who reportedly could have started with the Owls this season had he chosen to stay there. Plus there's Jed Ryan and what is shaping up to be a strong recruiting class. With 11 players returning, Princeton, even without Carril, will be the heavy favorite to repeat. The Quakers should contend, though, if all those pieces fall into place, and if they adopt the never-give-up persona that will be the legacy of this year's seniors.Comments powered by Disqus
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