Jason Briggs ’09 and Michael Strittmatter ’09, the lone remaining members of a five-man recruiting class, have persevered through three consecutive losing seasons with the men’s basketball team. Each year, one more classmate abandoned ship, and Princeton’s record dropped farther below .500.
“Our time here hasn’t gone exactly how we planned so far,” Strittmatter said, “but this is our last chance and we just want to make the most of it.”
As the Tigers aim for a steep climb up from last year’s 6–23 finish (3–11 in the Ivy League), they will look to the two seniors as examples of how to deal with adversity.
Strittmatter established himself as a scoring threat in his first two seasons, playing significant minutes as a reserve, but the 6-foot, 8-inch forward suffered a torn hamstring in his right leg last season. The injury kept him out of 17 games and severely limited his impact upon return. Serious injuries have hampered Strittmatter in each of his years at Princeton, and fans have yet to see him healthy for a full season.
Briggs, who along with Nick Lake ’10 will captain the Tigers, has taken an unlikely path to becoming a senior leader. After seeing just two minutes of game action over his first two seasons, Briggs remained a complete unknown deep into his junior year. But in the Ivy League season, he slowly emerged as a reliable guard. By season’s end, he was a fixture in the Princeton lineup, averaging better than eight points per game in the final seven contests.
“Jason never quit in his first two years, and last year he came in and had a great season,” Strittmatter said. “He’s not only someone the younger guys on the team should look up to, but someone the older guys can look at, too — myself included.”
Briggs and Strittmatter will need to assume a greater level of responsibility on the court for a team that lost four of its top six scorers from last season. Center Zach Finley ’10, whose 10.4 points per game led the Tigers, and guard Marcus Schroeder ’10, a two-year starter, round out the core for Princeton, which opened the season against Central Michigan Nov. 14. Sharp-shooting guard Lincoln Gunn ’10 left the team for personal reasons, so head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 will rely heavily on his quartet of experienced upperclassmen.
“There was obviously a challenge made to them in the sense that we have to want to change our end result,” Johnson said of his returning players. “And we have to want to change it bad enough that it affects our behavior day to day.”
Freelance writer Karl Micka-Foos ’08 lives in Princeton.