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Old 06-10-2014, 08:07 AM   #1

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Chris Krug left the team for personal reasons. Eleven games in

"Then you have to see him every day," Thompson said, nodding in Young's direction. "One of our biggest weaknesses is size, and you look up and there he is. It happens every day."

The best word to describe the Princeton basketball team at the start of the season? Decimated comes to mind. Their coach, Bill Carmody, high-tailed it to Northwestern only days before classes were to resume. Young signed a baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which under Ivy League rules made him ineligible to compete in basketball. Spencer Gloger, the second-leading scorer of a year ago, surveyed the landscape and headed back to California, transferring to UCLA. Ray Robins, a 15-game starter, took a year off from school.

And that was just before the season started. Once practice got under way, Chris Krug left the team for personal reasons. Eleven games in, Eugene Baah quit. Surgery to repair a tendon in his groin kept point guard Ahmed El-Nokali out of preseason practice and the first five games. Forward Mike Bechtold, once the Tigers' leading scorer this season, missed four games and was slowed much of the Ivy season with an injured foot, and center Nate Walton missed two games because of an ankle injury.

Let's see, did we leave anybody out?

Yup. That would be Thompson.

The son of the Georgetown coaching legend, he stood like the stubborn tree in the middle of a tornado, refusing to give way. His unbelievable calm amid a furious storm is the reason the Tigers are back in the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus, ready to tackle No. 2 seed North Carolina Friday night in New Orleans.

"You have to give John credit," said athletic director Gary Walters. "He dealt with the issues with a degree of equanimity. He's been very reassuring to everyone associated with this program. I don't know that I was worried about him, but I didn't know how he would operate as a head coach, how he would handle a crisis. In retrospect, he's handled them unbelievably well. He's nurtured and nursed this team along."

Most experienced coaches would have thrown up their hands in frustration, started telling anyone and everyone within earshot that Princeton was in for a rebuilding season. No one would have argued. A year ago, the Tigers figured to have three of their top four leading scorers back in the fold. As it turned out, they had one. On Sept. 6, the day he was named head coach, Thompson had four players with playing experience. By the time the Ivy season rolled around, he had three.

By October, prognosticators had awarded another Ivy title to Penn, and some even predicted Princeton would finish as low as fifth. Even Walters tried to downplay his expectations.

"I thought it was important that I set the tone for the alumni, the community, that we might
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