Going to the rim: Princeton men’s basketball player Tosan Evbuomwan looked to get a shot in a game last season. Veteran star Evbuomwan, last winter’s Ivy League Player of the Year, is ready to give the Tigers a grand finale. Princeton hosted Hofstra on Nov. 7 to greet the 2022-23 campaign. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
FOr Mitch Henderson, whose attention to detail has been key to his Princeton men’s basketball success this winter.
“We have to be able to keep our composure, but also focus on the tiniest things that move the team forward, things that are rarely noticeable when you’re playing,” said Princeton head coach Henderson. He led the Tigers to a 23-7 record last winter, which won the Ivy League regular-season title and made it to the NIT. “The main thing I want to see is whether we can take a step forward in doing the smallest thing – a deflection, a difference in half-step defense, putting your hand on a ball that you probably shouldn’t get … I think we’re going to be able to shoot, we’re going to be able to score at the rim.”
With Princeton hosting Hofstra in the season opener on Nov. 7, Henderson believes his team has been moving forward.
“The preseason was really short for us because we lost a lot from a year ago, so we had to piece together what worked in practice,” Henderson said. “We really wanted to start. I Loved working with the team, they were responsive and focused. There was a lot of humility in the team. It was led by Tosan Evbuomwan, Ryan Langborg and Matt Allocco. They were always there, they saw it, they knew what to do.”
Princeton will rely on the doubles of senior Lang Borg (10.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 2021-22) and junior Aloko (4.1 points, 2.8 rebounds) to lead the guard.
“Starting with Matt and Ryan in the backcourt, they’re two veterans who have played in really big games,” Henderson said. “It’s time for them to take over. Year after year, it’s time for the next group to take a big step.”
Henderson thinks sophomore guard Blake Peters (1.3 points, 0.9 rebounds) can make a big leap this season, helping the U.S. Open men’s basketball team win gold at the Magabiya Games in the summer.
“I expect him to make a big difference for us on and off the court,” Henderson said, noting that sophomore Darius Gakwasi (3.1 points, 1.3 rebounds) should also see time in the backcourt. “He can shoot well. He does more than we ask him to do. He needs to keep working on other aspects of the game, the little things that help win.”
Former Huns standouts Jack Scott and Xavier Lee will lead a stellar group of freshman guards that also include Devin Austin.
“The freshmen are fine, and I hope they all help us,” Henderson said. “Jack has everything, he can do everything. He’s a great passer. He gets it, he’s an all-around player. Xia Wei’an is very fast.”
On the frontcourt, Evbuomwan did it all for the Tigers last winter, being named Ivy League Player of the Year. The 6-foot-8, 219-pound forward from Newcastle, England, is averaging 16.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
“We went into the opener a year ago and didn’t know we were going to play like him,” said Evbuomwan’s Henderson, whose 2021-22 assist total of 142 is the second-best on the plan. Season result history. “It’s really been a development that’s happened throughout the season. His perimeter game has really taken off. He’s a good passer.”
Henderson thinks the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Keeshawn Kellman (5.0 points, 2.4 rebounds) could be a force for the Tigers this winter.
“Kishon has improved so much, we really haven’t had him for two years,” Henderson said, noting that Kelman was plagued by injuries last winter and only played in eight games. “He’s doing a great job, he’s a physical presence around the rim. He’s learning how to have an impact on the ball after the possession. He just needs time to do it and then do it with Tosan. For us , it’s going to be the funniest part of the season, seeing these two together.”
The other two returners, sophomore Mason Hooks (3.1 points, 1.7 rebounds) and junior Zach Martini (2.2 points, 1.6 rebounds), should see time in the paint.
“Mason has been a big contributor to us; he really knows how to play the game,” Henderson said. “Zach is an entity. We hope they both can contribute very much.”
The Tigers will be looking for a pair of freshmen Caden Pierce and Vernon Collins as well as sophomores Philip Byriel and senior Jacob O’Connell to contribute to the frontcourt.
“Carden was a guard on his high school team, but he has the ability to switch,” Henderson said. “He’s a 6-foot-6, strong, disciplined big man. We can have him defending in a number of different positions, which helps us. Vernon, Philip and Jacob will also be watching to the minutes of the meeting.”
Princeton faces a tough test at the end of its season of hosting Hofstra.
“I think it’s a great starter for college basketball guys,” said Henderson of Hofstra, who went 21-11 last winter to beat Princeton 81-77 in early December . “Their coach is really good, Speedy Clarkston is the head coach. It’s a tough game. They have this kid, Aaron Estrada, a southpaw who can score in so many different ways. They are A tough game, they are very competitive.”
With Princeton hosting the Ivy League playoffs at Judwin Coliseum in March, the Tigers are determined to be a championship team as the campaign unfolds.
“Last year was an interesting year for the team; we started a lot slower, but it really came together and it was an amazing, historic offensive season,” said Henderson, whose team is on He set a program record when he averaged 79.8 points per game during the season.
“I don’t want that, but I want our defense to be better than it was a year ago. It’s a very different team. You’re going to go through the year like your seniors and leaders. I have high marks for that group. Expectation. Like we do every year, that’s what we have and we’re going to put everything on the table and try to get a championship out of it. Just keep learning and growing and we have a chance.”