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Season Preview: CHD sits down with Princeton coach Mitch Henderson

mitch

At Culver Military Academy you played football, basketball, and baseball.  Which sport were you best at, and how close did you come to signing with the Yankees after they picked you in the 1994 MLB draft? I was not close at all with the Yankees. When I told a scout that I was admitted to Princeton, he said, “Good luck at school: we’ll see you in the spring!” I was probably best at baseball, but basketball clearly became my sport.

In the 1996 NCAA tourney you scored eight points in a two-point upset of defending national champion UCLA.  Where does that rank among the greatest wins of your career? It stands out, mostly because it is one of those moments that everyone wants to have. It was indicative of the teams we played on, as it was a great team win.

In the 1997 NCAA tourney you scored a team-high 15 points in a three-point loss to Cal.  Could you have ever imagined that your opponent Tony Gonzalez would turn into one of the best tight ends in NFL history? No, but he just destroyed us that game. We heard that he was also a football player, but he made almost every single shot he took in the second half.

In 1998 you led the conference with 65 steals as your team finished 27–2 (with only a pair of single-digit losses to North Carolina/Michigan State).  What is your secret for playing great defense? You have to anticipate and think about what your opponent is trying to do. We were taught to just get our hands on passes, so it was also part of the culture.

You won three straight Ivy League titles as a player at Princeton (two of which were perfect 14-0 conference seasons) and were captain of the 1998 team.  What is the key to being a good leader? You have to lead by example, there were plenty of examples for me to see during my first three years, and I really wanted to become captain because I have such a humble respect for the tradition.

You played professional basketball in Ireland in 1998 and joined the Atlanta Hawks in 1999.  What is the biggest difference between college basketball and pro basketball? The first thing is free time, as you are way more out on your own. The style of play is more open because everyone is faster, bigger, stronger but you still have to put the ball in the basket consistently.

You spent 11 years as an assistant under your former Princeton coach Bill Carmody at Northwestern.  What made Carmody such a good coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? He is a fantastic teacher of the game, so I always try to emulate him by putting my players in positions to be successful. There was nothing he did not think of, so it was a great education for me.

In 2011 you were named head coach at your alma mater.  Why did you decide to take the job, and how long do you plan on sticking around for? As long as they will have me! There are very few programs in the country with a great tradition and outstanding academics. It is a great place to work and to be part of a great university community that supports its student-athletes and staff.

Several other Princeton alums are also current D-1 coaches.  Do you think that is a coincidence or is there something special about being trained as a Tiger? I do not think it is a coincidence. You have to give credit to Coach Pete Carril for being a special teacher. He taught us all how to see the game, think about things, and bring guys together as a team to be their best. If I am half as good as he was, I will be happy.

You have had winning seasons during each of your first two years as head coach: what are your expectations for the upcoming season? We lost some important pieces, but we should be able to shoot the ball well and defend. We get started in a week and I am ready to get going. We are focused on getting better every day.

JonTeitel