Hopes are high after both teams’ tournament titles and NCAA Tournament wins last season

A man lifts a ball nearly to the rim of the basket.
Matt Allocco ’24 drives to the basket at Princeton's practice on media day in October.
Shelley Szwast
By the time Princeton’s basketball teams began preseason practice last month, “2023” had been added to the championship banners in Jadwin Gym, celebrating last March’s achievements, which included Ivy League regular season and tournament titles and NCAA Tournament wins by the men and women.

“They’re on top of that,” women’s co-captain Ellie Mitchell ’24 said, looking up to the rafters on media day. “It shows us what we can achieve, and it’s a good reminder of what we want to get to and what we’re working for, day in and day out.”

For the men’s team, a special NCAA Sweet Sixteen banner joined the collection. “That’s never going away,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “This is a really historic thing, not just for us but for the University and our communities.”

Both teams are anxious to see what comes next. The Princeton women, who tip off their season at Jadwin Nov. 6 against Duquesne, return three starters, all of whom won major Ivy awards last year: Kaitlyn Chen ’24, the player of the year; Mitchell, the co-defensive player of the year; and Madison St. Rose ’26, the rookie of the year. But the Tigers also have a large group of newcomers: six freshmen and a sophomore, Tabitha Amanze, who missed the entire 2022-23 season due to injury. Head coach Carla Berube said her preseason has been focused on teaching, particularly on the defensive end, with a “back to the basics” approach.

The Princeton men, who open Nov. 6 against Rutgers at Trenton’s CURE Insurance Arena, have more openings to fill, including the central role played by Tosan Evbuomwan ’23, their leading scorer and passer last year, “a really special, generational player,” in Henderson’s words. (In June, Evbuomwan signed a free-agent deal with the Detroit Pistons and is now practicing with their G League affiliate.) 

“We really figured out a way to play with Tosan and his skillset,” Henderson said. “Now we have to figure out a way to play without Tosan and [with] the skillset of this group. So it’s been fun. It’s a challenge for us.” 

Here are five takeaways from media day.

1. Measuring up

With 6-foot-9 Keeshawn Kellman and 6-foot-8 Evbuomwan in the lineup last year, the men’s team could rely on a strong post presence. This year’s lineup promises to be a bit smaller — though Henderson notes that returning starters Caden Pierce ’26 and Matt Allocco ’24 play bigger than they look. 

Allocco, a 6-foot-4 guard from Hilliard, Ohio, said the Tigers have maintained their toughness and hope to take advantage of their ability to run the floor. “We’re not super big,” he said. “We lost Tosan and Keeshawn last year who were obviously a pretty big inside presence. But we’re fast and athletic, and hopefully we can play that way, get up and down a little bit, and just compete.”

Four women playing basketball during a game.
Madison St. Rose ’26, center, and Ellie Mitchell ’24, right, in action against Penn during last year’s Ivy League Tournament.
Beverly Schaefer

2. Experience counts

Mitchell, now in her third season as a full-time starter, played some of her best basketball in March, averaging 8.3 points and 14 rebounds in four postseason games (Ivy and NCAA tournaments). But when she talked about lessons from last year, she cited one of the rare low periods: Princeton’s losses to Harvard and Columbia at the beginning of Ivy play. “We aren’t quick to forget how we started our Ivy League season last year,” she said, “0-and-2, that was a big reality check. … We’re Princeton basketball, but you can’t take that for granted. The name doesn’t do anything on its own. We’ve got to work for that.”

That attitude lines up nicely with Berube’s view of Mitchell. “She knows the standard,” she said. “She’s become a great vocal leader. She certainly shows it every day in practice, and in games. But she’s been a great leader off the court, too.”

3. X-factor

Reserve guard Xaivian Lee ’26’s quick penetration and crafty passing provided a spark for Princeton’s offense last year, and the men’s team has high expectations for the 6-foot-3 Canadian in his sophomore season. Henderson acknowledged he’s been pretty demanding in practice and compared the situation to his own experience as a young player, when head coach Pete Carril pushed him to take on a larger role for the Tigers.

“I really didn’t like coach back then,” Henderson said with a laugh. “And I’m sure Xaivian has some issues with the way I’m going about it, but I just think so highly of what he can do. And now we’re just trying to make sure that he sees it that way too.”

4. St. Rose in bloom

St. Rose, a 5-foot-10 guard from Old Bridge, New Jersey, emerged as a star for the women’s team in her debut season, scoring in double figures in eight of the last 12 Ivy games — all Princeton wins. But in the two NCAA Tournament games, she struggled, making just one of 15 field-goal attempts. “I think she didn’t like the way her year ended last year in the NCAA Tournament,” Berube said, and the experience motivated her to work on building strength and adding to an already impressive range of skills. 

“She put in a lot of time this summer on [everything from] the quickness of her release to her range to finishing going both ways — she’s very dominant lefty, but she’s got some great finishes going right,” said Berube, who added that St. Rose’s confidence and leadership have blossomed as well. 

5. Returning from injuries

Amanze, a 6-foot-4 center from Ogun, Nigeria, by way of New Jersey’s Blair Academy, was ranked among ESPNW’s top 50 recruits in 2022, but a knee injury kept her off the court for her entire freshman season. She’ll be ready for Princeton’s opener, Berube said, and adds inside scoring, shot blocking, and rebounding that should pair well with Mitchell’s post skills and help Chen get open looks on the perimeter. 

On the men’s side, 6-foot-6 guard Deven Austin ’26 was a dynamic presence last January and February before a knee injury cut his season short. He watched the Tigers’ tournament run from the bench and likely will remain there for a sizable part of this season. “It’s taught me a lot about myself,” he told PAW. “Just, you know, stay patient. Maybe that wasn’t my time to shine, maybe coming up, end of this year or junior year is my time to make my move and show what kind of player I really am.”