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December 19, 2014

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NBA SUMMER LEAGUE:

At age 79, Kings coach still in love with the game of basketball

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Justin M. Bowen

Sacramento Kings head coach, Pete Carril, left, watches the action during the NBA summer league at the Thomas & Mack Center.

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The 1997 book written by Sacramento assistant coach Pete Carril, who runs the Kings' squad at the NBA Summer League.

The event volunteer watches 79-year-old Pete Carril waddle by, six-inch jab steps at a time, late Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center and offers a polite suggestion.

How about the elevator?

Carril, in light slacks, a khaki T-shirt and a dark cap, doesn’t stop or turn to look at the young man. He keeps his eyes straight ahead.

No thanks, he says forcefully.

Carril focuses on the 64 concrete stairs between Sections 112 and 113. Slowly, steadily, he climbs to the concourse.

After this season with the Sacramento Kings, Carril likely will leave the game that, after a long stretch at Princeton, landed him in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I think this might be it,” he says. “I’m not sure. You can never tell, but it might be the end. I don’t know. I’ll see how I feel.”

With a coach that is four times as old as new point guard Tyreke Evans, the Kings are one of the more compelling NBA Summer League stories at UNLV.

Evans and the rest of the young squad embrace the Yoda-like Carril, who mostly sits during games as he barks orders or gives direction.

For timeouts, he often requires assistance to stand up from one or both of his assistants. He ambles to the middle of the huddle, sits and diagrams plays on a clipboard.

Since leaving Princeton after a dreamy 1995-96 season, Carril (pronounced cu-RILL) has spent most of his time on the Kings’ bench. The connection is Geoff Petrie, the Sacramento general manager who played for Carril at Princeton.

Officially, he will be a basketball development consultant this season.

“You have a sense of responsibility to try to make each player play the way you have to to be successful,” Carril says after Monday’s loss to Milwaukee. “Tonight was the first time in three games we did not, even in practice, pass the ball that well.”

The disappointment was etched in his sad eyes.

“Tonight I learned that it was just hard to coach this game when there are guys who don’t practice with you, and you have to play them,” Carril says. “It’s a tough lesson. Getting everyone to play together is still one of the hardest things.”

Without the benefit of scholarship athletes, Carril guided Princeton to a record of 525-273 over 29 seasons.

He molded the Tigers into one of the country’s perennially stingy defenses, and they played a deliberate offensive style that was predicated on sharp passing and backdoor cuts.

It’s been mimicked by scores of teams at all levels.

It produced one of the stunning upsets in NCAA tournament history when Princeton beat defending national champion UCLA, 43-41, in the first round in Indianapolis in 1996.

The signature play was Gabe Lewullis’s game-winning layup on a backdoor cut, on Charles O’Bannon, with 3.8 seconds remaining.

Carril recognizes the magical victory, but he doesn’t look back.

“That’s ancient history, right?” he says. “And I always live for the day. I’m alive, right? So I thought tonight we didn’t play well.”

It was just a Summer League game, but it was one of the first that likely will cap his final season.

“It bothers me a little bit, even though it’s Summer League,” he says. “You have to think, what’s going to happen when they’re going to play in the league?”

Retiring after the Tigers had won the Ivy League championship and bounced the Bruins out of the NCAAs was an easy decision, Carril wrote in his 1997 book, “The Smart Take from the Strong” (Simon & Schuster).

“It is easier to say nice things about someone,” Carril wrote, “after he has been successful.”

Other gems from Carril the author:

-- You can’t win with three-car-garage guys. With two-car-garage guys you got a chance. I was a no-car-garage guy in a $21-a-month apartment by Quinn’s coal yard in Bethlehem (Pa.).

-- You have to take advantage of what you have. Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren did that, and we (did) it, too. If you have a fast team and you don’t run, you’re being stupid. And if you have a slow team, you must take the run out of the game.

-- I have never confused understanding with compromise. When you are as direct as I am, you’re going to offend some people.

-- Why did Princeton permit a person like me to coach there for twenty-nine years? They could have found some tall, handsome dude, with the right image. Instead, they had this small guy smoking a cigar and losing his hair. I think they kept me because some of my players seemed to be better people for the experience.

After Monday’s defeat, Carril isn’t in the mood to compromise. After two or three questions, he is bored and tries to inch his way down a tunnel and onto the Mack floor.

“I like the game, of course,” he almost whispers. “There’s not much you can say about something you’ve done for a long time, except that you have to love what you’re doing.

“I have a doctor who operated on me (he had heart bypass surgery in November 2000) and he loved what he was doing, thank God. Saved my life.”

A minute later, Carril makes a move to get away from this questioning nonsense.

“That’s enough,” he says, “for the book you’re gonna write.”

He ekes over Tarkanian Court, up to the concourse, out a glass exit door and down 38 concrete stairs into a warm Las Vegas evening.

Pete Carril is about to leave the building for good.

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