When athletics director Gary Walters ’67 introduced men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson ’97 at an April 23 press conference, he reminisced about the former captain’s playing career, quoted Johnson’s thesis adviser on his academic accomplishments, and called him “the right man to lead this program forward.”
Johnson, in his turn at the podium, tried to take the compliments in stride. “I want to give everything that I have to give to make this the right fit, to warrant a lot of the praise that is coming in right now,” he said. “To be honest, it’s a little over the top.”
Johnson has been a coach for just three seasons, and he has never been a head coach. But Walters said his track record of leadership and exposure to several styles of play made him the top candidate in Princeton’s search.
As a player at Princeton, Johnson was the only three-year captain in program history, and he led the Tigers to two Ivy League titles, including a dramatic playoff win over Penn in 1996 that set up Princeton’s upset of UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
After college, Johnson played professionally in Spain and Italy, where his teams won three championships in seven seasons. He joined coach John Thompson III ’88’s Georgetown staff in 2004 and helped the Hoyas reach the NCAA Final Four in 2007.
Former Tiger center Jesse Rosenfeld ’97 said that while Johnson’s teammates did not necessarily expect him to become a coach, they also were not surprised. “He has all the ingredients you would want,” Rosenfeld said. “He’s a leader, he’s a worker, and he has a passion for the game.”
The 2006–07 Tigers, coached by Joe Scott ’87, who resigned to become head coach at the University of Denver, won just two of 14 Ivy games and finished in last place.