“The nature of collegiate athletics, not to be cliche, is that you have turnover,” women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart said at her team’s preseason press conference.
That makes it sound simple, but her team and the men’s basketball team will see more than their share of turnover as their seasons get underway this weekend. Each has graduated a player who became synonymous with Princeton basketball.
You could make an argument for both Ian Hummer ’13 and Niveen Rasheed ’13 being the best Tigers to ever play their sport, or at least the best in decades.
Despite missing more than half of her sophomore season due to an injury, Rasheed is fourth on Princeton’s all-time scoring list and third on its all-time rebounding list, and she is close to the top of practically every school record.
“We lost the most dynamic player in Ivy history,” Banghart said. “We lost a lot in Niveen.”
The immortal Bill Bradley ’65 may have Hummer beat for the title of best Princeton men’s basketball player of all time, but Hummer has a solid claim to the No. 2 spot — that’s where he is on the all-time scoring list, 75 points above third-best Doug Davis ’12.
And they weren’t just the best ones in the Orange Bubble. Rasheed was Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2010 and a two-time unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year. She averaged 16.3 points per game over her career, leading the league in scoring for her final two seasons. Hummer was also named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2013, earning his second unanimous All-Ivy selection and setting a new record by being named Ivy League Player of the Week seven times.
The reason their loss will be felt so acutely is not simply the awards and jaw-dropping statistics they racked up but what their teams accomplished during their time at Princeton. The men’s team came up short last season, but Hummer’s teams won an Ivy title, made two solid appearances in the College Basketball Invitational and nearly pulled off a stunning upset of fourth-seeded Kentucky in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Rasheed led her team to four straight Ivy League titles and its first, second, third and fourth NCAA Tournament appearances.
Additionally, both Hummer and Rasheed were, unsurprisingly, the leaders of their teams. Even from the stands, you could tell that they were clearly in charge when they were on the court, and when the game was on the line there was never a doubt as to who would step up.
So the question is, “Where do we go from here?” When Davis and Devona Allgood ’12 graduated, they left Hummer and Rasheed behind as their obvious successors. This year, it’s not quite so simple.
On the men’s side, there are four returning starters and at least two players who could adequately fill the gap left by Hummer: senior guard T.J. Bray and junior forward Denton Koon. Long overshadowed by Hummer, each has shown flashes of greatness, just maybe not the same kind as Hummer’s. Two inches shorter than Hummer, Bray had just two blocks to his captain’s 23 last season, but he took plenty of points off the board with his 51 steals, far and away the most on the team.
Head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 went as far as to say, “T.J. is the heart and soul of our program and has been for three years,” and though there are probably plenty who would disagree with that characterization, he’s right to be confident that Bray will do a fine job leading the team.
Koon played 132 minutes fewer than Hummer as he worked his way into the starting lineup, and though he averaged significantly fewer points, he displayed a long-range accuracy that, frankly, Hummer couldn’t match: a .532 field goal percentage and a .432 mark from three point land, which was far better than Hummer’s .292. Henderson indicated that he would be using Koon differently this season, but even if we see less of him on the perimeter, you can bet that the junior will be turning heads with his accuracy.
It’s a little tougher to guess who the next star of the women’s team will be, given that Rasheed’s 16.7 points per game average was almost double that of her highest-producing teammate. That teammate, senior forward Kristen Helmstetter, is the Tigers’ only returning starter, as the supporting cast which fed off of Rasheed’s energy has lost many key members to graduation.
“I think there’s a lot of people that won’t recognize some of the people who are going to be really important to us,” Banghart admitted at the preseason press conference.
Helmstetter played far fewer minutes than Rasheed and took far fewer shots, but she edged the Ivy League Player of the Year in shooting percentage and had a three-point percentage more than .100 higher. Meanwhile, junior guard Blake Dietrick, like Koon, came out of relative obscurity in 2012-13. While starting only six games, Dietrick was still fourth on the team with eight points per game, and the graduation of Rasheed and her classmates means that Dietrick will see far more time.
“We’ve spent some time over the last three years creating offense with players that struggled to score, and now we definitely can score in this group,” Banghart said.
Banghart emphasized that her team was used to “reloading,” pointing to a number of freshmen and senior guard Nicole Hung, who returns after missing all of last season with an injury.
If this sounds like grasping at straws instead of facing the fact that two of the most entertaining players in Princeton history have graduated, that’s because it sort of is. The reality is that nobody is going to replace either of these players outright — as Banghart said, it will be done “by committee.” It’s a little comforting, however, to take a look behind the figures that dominated Princeton basketball for four years and see that there are still players who are plenty fun to watch waiting in the wings.