It's been the worst of weeks for Princeton basketball. On August 30, the Tigers lost Chris Young, arguably the best big man in the Ivy League two years running. Yesterday, Bill Carmody, one of the country's most competent coaches, announced he was departing Old Nassau for Northwestern. If you care about Penn basketball, stop dancing, take off your party hat and wipe that grin off your face. This is no occasion to celebrate. Think about it this way: Would being a Penn basketball fan be as much fun if Princeton dropped its basketball program? Exactly. Obviously, things are nowhere close to that down in the dumps at the former College of New Jersey. But beating up on Princeton without Young, and without Carmody, won't come with the same glowing, can't-wipe-this-grin-off-your-face feeling of the stomping/storming/net-cutting at Jadwin in '99 or last March's first win over Princeton at home since '96. The beauty, if not the saving grace, of the coming season, up until last week, was that the Ivy title appeared to be very much up for grabs between the Geoff Owens-led Quakers and the Young-led Tigers. And all the gloating and celebrating by Penn fans at Princeton's expense this week can't come within a halfcourt buzzer-beater of touching the gratification, the satisfaction, the vindication of a win over a good Princeton team. Even if neither team would have been poised for a national ranking this winter, knowing that Young would be artfully manning the high post for the famed Tigers system while the respected-but-dreaded Carmody whined on the sidelines was enough to have every Penn fan worth his "Abners -- Go Quakers!" shirt circling February 13 and March 6 in red on the calendar. The competition in one of college basketball's greatest rivalries would be as heated as ever. Now as the Tigers threaten to stumble into mediocrity, I find my enthusiasm for the coming season waning just a bit, despite the fact that Penn is now the clear favorite to win a third straight Ivy title and head back to the NCAAs. Look, I'm not crazy. I don't own one of those silly orange-and-black plaid blazers. There's no secret shrine to Pete Carril in my bedroom closet. Once, in a weak moment -- after the loss that lives in infamy, 50-49 on Feb. 9, 1999 -- I may have used words like "smug" and "smarmy" to describe Carmody, post-press conference. In short, journalistic integrity and objectivity notwithstanding, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Penn fan and I hate Princeton. Period. And that's why the most thrilling game at the Palestra in the past three years, the win over No. 6 Temple included, was the 78-72 overtime loss to Princeton in the '97-98 season finale. That year, the national media drooled over the Tigers, inflating Princeton to No. 8 in the rankings. The Penn team and its fans alike knew Princeton was overrated, but they also knew the Tigers were good, and an otherwise meaningless game for Penn/pre-NCAA tuneup for the Tigers became a classic for the ages. That game was exciting precisely because Princeton was at its most hated, perhaps, of all-time. Try loathing a mediocre rival. You'll understand why the Columbia fan(s) don't turn out in droves for the big Cornell game. If you don't root for Princeton in non-Ivy games, ask yourself why? Is it because just when we seem to have the Tigers neutered and begging for mercy they come back, claws thrashing? Is it because Princeton's the media darling and Penn never seems to get its fair due? Is it because of the fear of losing? I saw Young, who recently copped a million-dollar signing bonus from the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitch a handful of times this summer in the Cape League. He carried Chatham on his back every fifth day, helping the A's make a remarkable climb from last-place to the playoffs over the season's final weeks. He dominated Team USA in an exhibition game in front of 9,000 fans at the quaintest park in a league teeming with quaint ballparks. He is going to be a major league star. And best of luck to Carmody at Northwestern. He'll need it. But the team that will need the most luck will be Princeton. And I'll cross my fingers for the Tigers as tightly as anyone, because without a tough Princeton, the Penn basketball season just doesn't have the same luster. So keep hating Princeton. Just stop gloatingComments powered by Disqus
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