At times Pete Carril, the Kings' 65-year-old rookie assistant coach, looks a bit lost on the sideline, uncertain about what to do with himself. At Princeton, where he had such a splendid 29-year career that he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., on Feb. 4, Carril was known for foot-stomping, program-flailing histrionics that often left him disheveled, his gray hair sticking out in all directions. But with Sacramento he sits placidly on the bench, a couple of seats away from head coach Garry St. Jean. He gets up only for timeouts, and then he stands outside the huddle, his arms crossed as he studies the masked trampoline artist or the scantily clad dancing girls or some other aspect of NBA life so unfamiliar to him.
The game is no longer Carril's domain. He does his work in the film room and in practice sessions and in meetings with the staff. "He's a witty, intelligent guy who has tremendous knowledge and grasp of the game," says St. Jean, 47, who's in his fourth season at the helm of the Kings. "He's our coach emeritus, so his duties include everything. You know how a college will endow an academic chair for a professor? Well, that's what we've done here for Pete."
When Carril left Princeton last year after winning an Ivy League-record 525 games as well as 13 conference titles and the NIT championship in 1975, he had no immediate plans. He knew one thing for sure, though: He never wanted to be a head coach again. "I saw myself getting more cantankerous, less understanding and less patient," Carril says. "I was less forgiving of errors, so I felt it was time to go. Being a head coach for so long is like being in the infantry—you're getting shot at all the time, bullets flying all over. I decided it was time to join the quartermaster corps, where you bring the supplies to the front lines and then go back."
He thought he might hire on somewhere in college as a restricted-earnings coach. But then came the job offer from Kings vice president Geoff Petrie, who played for Carril at Princeton from 1968 to '70. Carril realized he would have to leave the haunts that had become as familiar to him as his Macanudo cigars. He would have to move cross-country. And he would have to get used to dealing with some of the most gifted athletes in the world, all of them wealthy and many of them spoiled. But Carril said yes. He felt a change of scenery might do him good.
"It's been, for the most part, an enjoyable experience," Carril says. "There's a game every other day, sometimes two in a row. I'd like a little more time to practice, to straighten out your sets. In the pros there's a lack of emphasis on fundamentals. There's not enough time spent on learning what's a good shot, on how to defend, on how to bring your teammates into play."
At first the Kings players weren't sure what to make of Carril. Take second-year forward Corliss Williamson. At Arkansas he was aware of the reputation Carril's Tigers had for being the team that nobody wanted to play in the first round of the NCAAs. "But I never watched any of their games on TV," Williamson says. "I didn't like that style." What future pro would? Under Carril, Princeton used a methodical approach, relying on screens, ball movement and backdoor cuts, that was antithetical to most NBA teams'—or, for that matter, to Arkansas's and that of most other big-time college programs.
Soon after Carril arrived, St. Jean asked him to help Williamson with his jump shot, his footwork and his ball handling. "He's added a lot of knowledge," Williamson says. "The man's been around for a while, and we realize he really knows a lot about the game. He's helped us get movement in our offense and options within the flow. He's really helped me, especially with my shot. It used to be a slingshot, but now it's a legitimate jump shot."
Such praise pleases Carril almost as much as his beloved stogies. "This is a no-lose situation for me," he says, puffing away. "I'm not doing it for the money. I got a very nice retirement from Princeton. But the things that make me happy have never been very expensive. After the season, if I feel like I've helped Garry and the players, then I'll stay. But if I don't feel like I have, then I'll go home and do something else. I think I'm helping so far. At least that's what the look in their eyes tells me. For me it's always been about the players, and that's the same in the NBA as it was at Princeton."
Carril has always liked the fast pace of the pro game. As a kid, he would come from Bethlehem, Pa., to New York City to see his heroes, the Celtics, play the Knicks. He would have loved to teach Red Auerbach's fast-break style at Princeton, but he could never recruit athletes capable of executing it. Carril's teams consisted mostly of future lawyers and stock-brokers who had a lot more brains than size or quickness or jumping ability. During his last few years at Princeton, Carril taped Bulls games and showed them to his players. He didn't expect any of his kids to be able to emulate Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen, but he did see something in Chicago's style that he thought could be applied to what he was trying to teach.
"They play at a faster pace, but the unselfishness is the same," he says. "They run a two-guard offense, which Princeton has had for 20 years. I've always believed in the value of long-range shooting, and so do they. Their inside-outside game—we used to do it all the time. And if you're only going to do one thing, you've got to do what [Dennis] Rodman does. He's an exceptional rebounder."