Going back to Nassau Ball

Four Princeton basketball players holding a ball, standing in front of a rotating basketball

Many know the recent story, at least in broad strokes. Each of the past two seasons, Princeton’s women’s basketball team has won an NCAA tournament game, and last year, the men’s basketball team made the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. With these accomplishments, Princeton became the first-ever Ivy League school to have both its women’s and men’s programs win an NCAA tournament game in the same season, just one week after becoming the first Ivy to capture the conference championship in both sports in the same year.

In other words, we are unfathomably lucky.

Since most current undergraduates have never known anything else, it can be hard to remember that things haven’t always been this way. During the first 48 years of the team’s existence, the women’s basketball program won just one Division I NCAA Tournament game; in each of the first 38, it didn’t even make a Division I NCAA appearance. Meanwhile, the 2023 NCAA Tournament win over Arizona was the first for the men since 1998, and represented only their fifth NCAA appearance since then.

I was fortunate enough to cover the men’s NCAA run last year in Sacramento and Louisville, and remember my heart continuing to race while I watched the women’s games from home. To see the postseason success of these two teams converge is a memory I will always hold dear. Back then, I assumed that my recollection of that chaotic and thrilling fortnight would be shaped by the electrifying in-game highlights, and I was partially correct. After all, who can forget triumphant moments like Grace Stone ’23’s last-second shot to beat N.C. State, or the men’s team’s heroic defensive stands to hold off Arizona?

However, what sticks out to me most from these parallel runs were the various emails I received from some former ‘Prince’ Sports editors. “Enjoy this, Wilson,” read one of the messages sent to me in the hours after the Arizona game, as I scrambled to put together our coverage in my near-catatonic shock. “This is the article we all dreamed of writing.”

This particular former editor, aside from (inadvertently) loading pressure on me while writing that pressing article, brought to mind the thousands and thousands of students who graced FitzRandolph Gate without the chance to see their basketball programs accomplish what the Tigers have done so far in the past few years.

Some of these students cared deeply. Many were probably indifferent. And there were certainly quite a few who only recognized Jadwin as the physics building. Nonetheless, the Princeton experience of these former students was worse off for not having had the joy and excitement that our teams provide us today.

Now, I must acknowledge that many members of the Princeton community who fanatically cheered on the men’s success last year were just as thrilled about the women’s recent dominance in the Ivy League, where they’ve won at least a share of 10 of the last 13 regular season Ivy titles (the men have won four of 13). For well-known reasons that have little to do with the quality of the team and a lot more to do with sexist attitudes about women’s athletics, the women’s team has often had their impressive accomplishments overshadowed by whatever is going on with the men’s team, good or bad.

However, the women’s game is growing faster than it ever has before, and while these attitudes still persist among certain sectors of our society, they are slowly fading. This is not to say all is well; there is certainly much more to be done to ensure equity between the spotlight the two teams receive, but many current Princeton students approach women’s games with the same — and often more — fervor than they might approach a men’s game.

This supplement serves as an opportunity for the Princeton community to embrace this fervor, whether you’ve been following Princeton basketball for decades or just became a fan this year. In anticipation of next weekend’s Ivy Madness tournaments at Columbia University, these articles are jam-packed with all you need to know about this year’s editions of Tiger basketball, with historical context sprinkled throughout.

Additionally, I hope the passionate fans among you keep these stories as tokens of a very special era of Princeton basketball. Things have never been this good. They may be this good for a little while longer. And they may never be this good again. So enjoy where we are now.


Former Senior Editor and Former Head Sports Editor
March 8, 2024

Wilson Conn is an editor emeritus at The Daily Princetonian.

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