Sydney Johnson “We battled so much to get this opportunity. We want it badly.”
March 16, 2011 – 7:00 am by Steven Cuce
It was orange clad pandemonium on Saturday evening as junior guard Douglas Davis was able to take an inbound pass with 2.8 seconds remaining, drive right, pump fake, then pull back to his left and sink a 12-foot jump shot at the buzzer as Princeton went dancing into the night over Harvard, 63-62. The shot by Davis gave Princeton their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2004.
Sydney Johnson knows a thing or two about Princeton basketball and all the tradition. He played under the great Pete Carril and was mentored by the likes of Armond Hill, John Thompson III, Joe Scott, Howie Levy and Bill Carmody. Many young college basketball fans including myself may not even be aware of the Princeton basketball team that produced a two-point loss in 1989 to the #1 seed Georgetown. The only #16 seed that even came legitimately close of getting past the first round in the old format of the tournament.
Johnson played for Princeton from 1993-97 and he will try to recapture some of the magic that he hopes the Tigers can bring to the tournament. It may be disappointing that #13 Princeton was given the task of taking down the powerhouse that is #4 Kentucky basketball in the first round of the East region on Thursday. The Tigers are ready for the challenge claims Johnson. Princeton battled through back-to-back tough Ivy League games against Penn and Harvard to get here and they’re not going down without a fight.
Sydney Johnson joined WFAN in New York with Lori Rubinson to discuss the emotion of the Ivy League championship contest against Harvard with Doug Davis’s buzzer beater, what made the Ivy League championship so emotional for him, where was Princeton for the selection show on Sunday when they found out who they were playing against and what was his initial reaction to the matchup against Kentucky.
Talk about the games against Harvard and the emotion of the buzzer beater with Doug Davis?
“Right. Right. There’s so much in there. I mean Tuesday maybe some of your listeners don’t know the heated rivalry is actually Princeton and Penn where we’ve shared 25…we’ve won 25 Ivy League Championships and they have won 25, so we had to go there Tuesday to beat them to tie for the league championship, which we did. That was a big, emotional, game on the road. We than have to turn around and play Saturday against a good Harvard team and were going back-and-fourth, back-and-fourth, and this is for the automatic bid. There’s been a lot of talk on how much progress Harvard has made and they certainly have. I just felt bad for our guys because I felt like we were overlooked a little bit and that it was this group of guys, our seniors, their first time to play in the NCAA tournament if we won. Even though it became our 26th Ivy League Championship. It was only this year’s group…their first time to win and go to the NCAA tournament. There’s a lot of emotion on our end as much as Harvard’s. For it to come down to a last second shot…a very well executed out of bounds play by the guys. I want to give them all the credit in the world. They did exactly what we try to do. Then we had a kid in Doug Davis, who is a local kid from Philly. We were able to steal him from one of the other Ivy League schools, maybe Penn, him [Doug Davis] making the shot. It couldn’t have happened to a better kid. He’s a terrific young man and thankfully it went down.”
I saw footage of the post-game and you seemed very emotional after the Harvard game? What made this game so emotional for you?
“Well you know I played ball here. I was mentored by some incredible men. Pete Carril, Armond Hill, John Thompson III, Joe Scott, Howie Levy, Bill Carmody. Okay so they made a huge impact on my life. I met my wife here. A lot of the teammates that I played with here are some of my best friends. They sent me text messages. They were giving me hugs after the game coming from all over the country to be there, so to help lead us to a win with our staff and our players and to make all those people happy it’s a bit overwhelming to be honest. The other thing is generally you know whether I’m coaching Princeton basketball or a team during the regular season or I’m coaching Princeton summer camp I coach with my heart. I put a lot into it. I want our guys to be the same way. When you’re able to turn that corner that you’ve been working for or towards for so long you’re going to let loose a little bit. There’s no shame in that.”
Where were you for the selection show with the team and what was the atmosphere like when the team found who they were going to play?
“Absolutely I mean that’s what the tournament has become. Right? It’s no longer you’re just going to sit at home you know and have your team spread out in a few different dorms rooms and call each other. You’re going to get all together. You’re going to enjoy the moment, so we have a fairly new student center in the middle of campus, huge TV, and a lot of common area space for students to hang out. We had media and TV cameras and obviously all the players and coaches and their wives. We all came together. It didn’t take us long. It was about two minutes into the show where they flashed our name and we all erupted. We realized how good Kentucky is. We realize everyone knows Coach [John] Calipari with what he’s able to do with all his various programs and how many wins he’s racked up. We were desperate for the opportunity. We busted our tails against Harvard to have the opportunity to play in these kind of special moments, so we were thrilled, captured it on film, got plenty of photo’s, but now the real work beings, watching tape and making sure we’re prepared to play a basketball game.”
Give us your initial reaction to the matchup against Kentucky? What about Kentucky can you exploit? What’s going to be tough about it?
“Well I’ll give you a little bit of a scoop that we have already started scouting them. You know we were actually up late watching film and even before I started watching film I knew Brandon Knight is the…I love that kid. He’s a fantastic player. He can really shoot it. He runs the team well. Obviously he’s still young, but he’s made his impact on college basketball. Terrence Jones is a man. He’s an NBA caliber player. Then they have terrific role players and I don’t know if you can call them role players. At some point in their lives they’ll probably become professional basketball players, so it’s quite a talented team. A coach who’s very well experienced and commands respect from his guys and also is pretty demanding, so he’s going to get them to play hard. The challenge is immense, but I can’t say it enough. We battled so much to get this opportunity. You know we want it badly and we’re going to try to prepare to do our best.”
Listen to Sydney Johnson on WFAN here
Tags: 2011 NCAA Tournament, Lori Rubinson, Princeton Men’s Basketball, Princeton Tigers, Sydney Johnson, WFAN
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