Myles Stephens ’19 and Devin Cannady ’19 would love to fill the new video board hanging in Jadwin Gym with highlights.
More than that, the men’s basketball captains would like to hang another Ivy League banner before they graduate. The challenge to do so comes with a young supporting cast that hopes to help the duo put a frustrating season behind them.
“I think after last year we refocused as a team,” Stephens said. “We came together and what happened last year we don’t want that to happen again. We know we have the talent here to compete within the league. It comes with that focus and mindset that we are a good basketball team and the better we are as individuals, the better we can do on the court. Even though we do have a lot of young guys, we’re all really talented and we all bring something to the table. And I think that’s going to help us in the end.”
Stephens and Cannady were a major part of history as sophomores when they helped the Princeton men’s basketball team go unbeaten in Ivy play and win the first Ivy tournament. It’s the sort of history they want to repeat, not last year’s in which they were a part of a Tigers team that allowed 2,083 points — the most in program history — during a 13-16 season tied for the third most losses in program history. They missed out on being one of the top four teams to play in the Ivy tournament.
“Our first experience with the tournament was after winning 14 straight Ivy League games and then going on and winning those two,” Cannady said. “So that’s what we knew. [Being in the league tournament is] something that is expected especially from a program like Princeton. We understand the history of this place and that was our expectation. We had a chance going into that last week given the mishaps of the conference play, but that’s added fuel to the fire for this season and something we’re looking forward to being back to.”
Princeton finished 5-9 in the Ivies, with half their losses coming in heartbreakers that would have changed on one play here or there. When the Tigers dropped a 94-90 overtime decision at Yale to end the year, it made them 1-4 in overtime Ivy games.
It was, Stephens said, “a rough end for us, but it kind of makes us hungrier for this season knowing we want to be back in that position to make the tournament this year.”
This year’s Ivy tournament will move from The Palestra at Penn to Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater on March 16-17, 2019. To get there, Princeton has focused foremost on improving at the defensive end.
Home games in CAPS
Nov. 9 — DESALES
Nov. 16 — Lehigh
Nov. 21 — FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON
Nov. 24 — Monmouth
Nov. 28 — Maine
Dec. 1 — GEORGE WASHINGTON
Dec. 5 — SAINT JOSEPH’S
Dec. 9 — St. John’s
Dec. 15 — Iona
Dec. 18 — Duke
Dec. 21 — Lafayette
Dec. 29 — Arizona State
Jan. 5 — PENN
Jan. 12 — Penn
Jan. 27 — WESLEY
Feb. 1 — Columbia
Feb. 2 — Cornell
Feb. 8 — Yale
Feb. 9 — Brown
Feb. 15 — HARVARD
Feb. 16 — DARTMOUTH
Feb. 22 — CORNELL
Feb. 23 — COLUMBIA
March 1 — Dartmouth
March 2 — Harvard
March 8 — BROWN
March 9 — YALE
“It’s huge,” Stephens said. “That’s one of the main things we’re doing. We’re really young this year. We have a lot of young guys who haven’t played a lot. The main thing is bringing them along and teaching them how hard it is to win games. There’s such a transition between high school and college. The young guys haven’t played a lot so they don’t know — like we do — how hard it is to win. And nailing that with the hammer and showing them these details do matter and every little thing matters in winning basketball games, and it starts for us on the defensive end.”
Princeton will lean heavily on Stephens and Cannady when they open the season by hosting DeSales Nov. 9. The duo has unmatched experience. Both played in every game as freshmen, then became key components as sophomores and budding leaders as juniors.
“It wasn’t a great year for the program and we had to correct a lot of things with the group coming back, and it starts with the leadership returning,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “Between the two of them, they’ve played in a lot of basketball games.”
The two were 1-2 in scoring last year. Both were All-Ivy honorees. Stephens was the Ivy Defensive Player of the Year two years ago, an honor that went to Amir Bell ’18 last season. Cannady comes off scoring the 11th most points by a Princeton player in a single season, 484, for a 16.7 points per game average.
“They have to help us and continue to invest in their young teammates, and help us grow,” Henderson said. “I love the team. I love the way we’re going about our business. They really connect well. We’re excited to get going.”
With 218 career 3-pointers, Cannady is on pace to top the all-time program mark of 281, set by current Cornell coach (and former Princeton assistant) Brian Earl ’99. Earl made 82 in his best season; Cannady has hit 81 and 80 in the last two seasons respectively, and draws from watching great shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who recently set an NBA record with 14 3-pointers in one game.
“I’m really big on watching their games and studying their film from the shots they take and how they get themselves open,” Cannady said. “Being a shooter, you love to see that happen in real time. That’s amazing. I know Coach Earl is at the top of that record and my freshman year, it’s something he joked about, that ‘You’ll never touch that.’ It’ll be interesting if I get to that, but we’ll see.”
Princeton has visions of running a bit more and trying to get Cannady and Stephens down the court quickly. Keying that will be Bell’s replacement at point guard, likely some combination of Jaelin Llewellyn ’22 and Jose Morales ’20 and even Cannady.
“He’s very advanced for a freshman,” Henderson said of Llewellyn. “He has an understanding of space in a college basketball game, and he’s so fast he’s able to get himself into little spaces just by changing the position of the defense. And he doesn’t play like a freshman. You’ll see him out there quite a bit.”
Llewellyn is part of a freshman class that also includes Max Johns ’22, Drew Friberg ’22, Ethan Wright ’22 and Colby Kyle ’22. They have a chance to impact the team early.
“Drew Friberg is another guy that makes a lot of shots,” Henderson said. “I love the freshman class. Colby Kyle is coming back from an injury. Max Johns and Ethan Wright are all going to help us.”
Jerome Desrosiers ’21, Sebastian Much ’21, and Ryan Schwieger ’21 all saw significant time as freshmen last year. That playing time will help, but the Tigers also want to see progress.
“We just need to see carry-over from the experience they got a year ago to what they’re doing now,” Henderson said. “Sometimes when you’re a freshman, the expectations aren’t always there. It’s sort of nice to be a freshman and be a recipient of a lot of things. Now there’s an expectation and we have to trust that you’re going to be there for us every single day.”
Princeton’s players will be tested in the non-conference schedule by Lehigh, Fairleigh Dickinson, Monmouth, Maine, George Washington, St. Joseph’s, St. John’s, Iona, Duke, Lafayette, and Arizona State. They open Ivy play Jan. 5 when they host Penn on the first step that Stephens and Cannady hope takes the Tigers back to the Ivy tournament.
“I do think as long as we have a defensive DNA going into the league, the non-conference slate is going to help us get there,” Henderson said. “You’re playing against so many talented individual players, but I’ve had teams that went 12-1 in the non-conference and you hit a little slide. I think it’s more about the identity of the group as they come together, and as long as these two guys are keeping their finger on the pulse of the group and making sure we’re staying on the course, you can do anything. It’s really about the kids. We have what we need to be successful.”