What will the men’s basketball team look like without T.J. Bray ’14?
“When I first got here, it was ‘how in the world are you going to replace Kareem Maddox [’11]?’” men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “Then it was Doug Davis [’12]. ... Now it’s ‘what are you going to do to replace T.J.?’
“We’ve had a history of really good players. That’s not going to change,” he said. “I think good players are going to keep rising.”
Though Princeton will miss Bray and the sharpshooting Will Barrett ’14, who averaged a combined 28.3 points per game last year, Henderson has plenty of talent on the rise. Forward Hans Brase ’16 finished second on the team in scoring as a sophomore, and the Tigers also return last season’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Spencer Weisz ’17, who played in every game and scored the most points by a Tiger freshman since 2009.
Weisz impressed Henderson on both ends of the court, scoring 8.7 points per game and grabbing 10 or more rebounds three times — an indicator, the coach said, “of somebody who does all the little things well.”
The little things made a difference last winter, when Princeton accumulated an 11–2 nonconference record but posted a mediocre 8–6 mark in the Ivy League. Henderson said that in the competitive Ivy season, four or five plays can significantly change a team’s fortunes; winning, he said, comes from “just having the courage to be able to make those plays go your way.”
While the Princeton women lost reliable scorer and rebounder Kristen Helmstetter ’14, the rest of last year’s starters will return. Like the men, coach Courtney Banghart’s team had no trouble scoring points last season but had uncharacteristic struggles in Ivy play, largely due to defensive woes.
“We weren’t as focused on the defensive end as we needed to be because we were focused on the offensive end,” Banghart said. “I’ve always been under this expectation that the best defensive team in the league wins.”
Not that last year’s defense was all bad news: Forward Taylor Williams ’16 looks poised to shut down opponents after leading the team with 38 blocks, and the team will benefit from the return of Mariah Smith ’15, a guard who missed all but seven games due to injury last season.
Meanwhile, the offense will hope to pick up where it left off. Blake Dietrick ’15 put up 14.3 points per game last year and helped the development of younger players such as Alex Wheatley ’16, who averaged 10.2 points per game.
Complementing the experienced core are newcomers with serious basketball pedigrees. Tia Weledji ’18’s father is a basketball coach who played for the Cameroonian national team. Leslie Robinson ’18’s father, former Princeton basketball star Craig Robinson ’83, has prepared his daughter well, Banghart said: “She’s been in the gym a lot, and it shows.”
The women will play their first two games on the road before their Nov. 19 home opener against Drexel. The men’s team tips off its season at Jadwin Gym against local rival Rider Nov. 14.