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Auto Trader. Princeton is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. They have a date with the Wildcats of Arizona coming up on Thursday opening round of the NCAA tournament at 4 10 PM Eastern. And now joining us is a man that played for Princeton. He is the head coach of Princeton. I'm very fired up for my next guest as in the earlier part of my radio career as I produced and did set up a lot of Mitch Henderson broadcasts as we did have a few shows on the great campus of Princeton. That is coach Mitch Henderson, who's kind enough to join us right now. Coach, I know it's been a while. Congratulations to you and your team and thanks so much for doing this. This is a pleasure to be with you today and I'm psyched to be here. We just left a little practice.
We got to Sacramento last night and we're just absolutely thrilled to be dancing. So I know that Yale has been a pain the last few years and the last time out it was a heartbreaking one as you guys had a big lead and then weren't able to get the job done. What was the difference this time around in the championship game of the Ivy League tournament?
You know, you learn a lot about yourselves in a place where you have a really difficult loss and that was a really difficult loss that you just mentioned. We had a gigantic lead, coughed it up. We felt that we had played great basketball for 35 minutes for that game and we lost it and unfortunately that's the way teams learn. So the human element in teams, you can't underestimate it so we needed to go through something like that so we learned how to win games and get a little tougher, get a little more resilient and we did. I thought we played just great basketball, played our best possible this season on the weekend, had two great wins over paying Yale to get to the tournament. And I really think in that Yale game because you had a lead and then it got cut down a little bit and you wonder how your team was going to mentally respond with what happened the last time out against Yale, it never seemed like you guys lost control of the game and even when momentum could have been shifting you never let them really overtake that game down the stretch.
Yeah you know and that's the point is doing it. I'm fortunate Toussaint Womond and Ryan Langborg, Matt Alocca, the three guys that have really put us on their back all season. They just said no, we're going to stay the course, we're going to do what we need to do and we guarded a very good team. As you mentioned Yale's been very good at great players but I was just so thrilled for the guys to, you know, this is what you want.
This is all we put our chips in. We got back-to-back Ivy League titles but we want to go dancing and we're happy to be in the tournament. Mitch Henderson here with us, the head coach of Princeton, champions of the Ivy League.
They have Arizona coming up on Thursday. Coach we've talked about this throughout the years when you have a freshman and they're playing well, right, they think everything is going to come to them so easily and when they have a down moment it's the sky is caving in on them. I look at Caden Pierce, your player, he's been so big for you guys and he doesn't appear to be a freshman player for you guys. Why has he been able to be effective, you know, so great right away and did you expect this production out of him this early on?
No, I would, no I did not. We thought he was, you know, we feel pretty good about all of your recruits. We thought he was going to be a very good piece but instantly from the very beginning of the season we realized that he was really good at the small things that you need to, the small and little things that are hard to do.
Remembering the scout, you know, hey we want to go over on this screen and want to make sure we're influencing this guy this way and then he was tough but what you don't realize and I say this, you know, I realize some people out there there's a really good freshman but I think he's one of the best freshmen in the country. He's such a winner and he makes such big plays and continuing over the course of this last weekend to make huge plays. He's, you know, gets two-handed rebounds above the rim. He's, you know, basically averages double-double on the weekend, you know, just tough. We wouldn't be where we are without him.
Keishon Kelman, he looks like he can play defensive end in the National Football League. Offensive rebounding was big down the stretch for you guys. He also took a big charge as well. What does he bring to your program?
You mentioned the charge on Saturday. We really emphasize and try to put a sort of a tactical number on the plays that don't get measured in the stat sheet. Charges taken, deflections, loose balls and Keishon just absolutely loves making those plays for his teammates. You're right, I actually thought, you know, he had been struggling just a little but he was just terrific on the weekend, especially Saturday in the pen game which, you know, honestly was equally as hard fought for us to get to the Sunday game. So, you know, you're really going to have all and we have eight guys who played a lot of minutes gonna have all those pieces coming together and again, the guys did it, man.
They really came through. I know how much coach Pete Carril means to the Princeton program and for you personally, unfortunately, coach did pass away in August. I know you're honoring him all throughout the season. What were you thinking about walking out of Jadwin gymnasium over the weekend as Ivy League champions? I'm sure coach obviously who's been with you mentally all throughout the year was probably on your mind, right?
Yeah, you know, I mean so much of what comes out of my mouth, I always say this should be cited. You know, he used to say like for free throws, for instance, he would say, hey these are free points you got to get every single one of them and I say it all the time and when I told the guys one day that's what coach used to say, you know, sort of look at you funny because it's, you know, what he did and who he was was, you know, Princeton basketball to me and, you know, now I'm the steward and I think he used to also say, Jack, that when you're if you're fortunate enough to be playing basketball in March and especially in New Jersey and it's still light out when you're leaving the gym because the days are getting a little bit longer, you know, you're playing in the tournament and so he'd be really happy for us and really happy there's a difference in the NCAA. Mitch Henderson, when you look back at that win that coach Carroll was able to have that you were able to be a part of in the NCAA tournament against UCLA, what are the memories all these these years later that still come to mind on that one? Well, first it was today's the day, it is the anniversary of 27 years ago today and my memory from that time does not feel like 27 years ago, it feels very recent in my head and everybody else is although we're all much prayer but he would say and I remember him saying this distinctly, I'm preparing you to win the game and he would do things and talk to us about things that were associated with winning and including when the ball got thrown up in that UCLA game, all fun was ran back on defense.
Yeah, I remember him saying to us, don't worry you're not going to get it just run back. So, I don't know, you know, this is the magic of the tournament, you need to believe but you also got to be exactly who you were and who you are that got you to the tournament, ain't that much because you know it's why the tournament is a reflection of all the good teams. What we've seen the last two years, 15 seeds take down two seeds in the NCAA tournament, I know you got to have your guys ready to go right out of the gate to be able to put yourself in that position, do you get a sense right now that your team will be ready to go come Thursday and not afraid or the stage won't be too big for them? I don't think the stage is too big, I don't think we'll be afraid, although Arizona is huge and they're very well coached and they're great. So, I would imagine every 15 seed has looked at the task and said listen man this is going to be hard and we know it's going to be hard, we know that too but you got to have fun and tap into that little inner kid you know when we all all the guys and us coaches included you know we've seen the upsets and you got to chop into that but you got to remember again like I go back to it but you got to remember what got you here and we've been playing tough and hard nose defense and finding the ways to get loose balls and long rebounds from the last couple weeks and you know we're going to have to be really special against Arizona.
You mentioned their size, how do you deal with the size of Arizona? I don't know, I just work as hard as you possibly can and hope that you know you get a couple good bounces. They got to guard us too so we know that we have to take advantage of the strengths that we have in the matchup but boy it's a tough task. I don't know how you stop and work and do our best. Coach, before we let your own Mitch Henderson here with us, Princeton goes up against Arizona coming up Thursday at 4 10 p.m eastern. Sometimes coaches are a little skeptical to coach their alma mater just because they never know how it's going to end and it's a place that obviously they love.
They don't want it to end in a bad way. You've been there since 2011. What has this experience been like for the last decade?
Yeah that's a good question. It's hard to describe what it's like to work as a alma mater. You certainly can't do it to your team.
There's something they don't care about my time. You internalize that and then you know who wants to hear about glory days is with people that are around you. Yes it's where I went to school and it's where I played and I have those memories but it really makes you stay in the present and focus on what's the most important thing which is the current team and what they're all about.
You want to create the same memories for them that you got to have. You feel it deeply Zach. I feel it very deeply. It's a relief when you get to this point because this is in my opinion where Princeton belongs which is at the top of the league and in the tournament.
So I feel that and that's where all my efforts go. Last thing I'll ask you, you've been in the NCAA tournament as a player for Princeton. You've been there as the head coach.
I was at that game years ago which was a thrilling game up against Notre Dame. How do the emotions compare and contrast you being the head coach and then also when you played at Princeton? You know as a player it's all new and it's a little like it's shiny and fun and as a coach I really this time around at least really enjoying it trying to take it all in and appreciating what got us here and you know two weeks ago as you mentioned three weeks ago we were in a real low point so you got to enjoy these kind of moments and we're soaking it all in out here in Sacramento and really excited about Thursday. Well enjoy it. I'm happy for you. I'm happy for your kids.
Also happy for all the staff at Princeton. Good luck and surprise some people coming up on Thursday. All right I appreciate that. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.
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