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A Sleeper's Dream
Kelli Anderson
March 03, 1997
Tragedy and triumph at Bowling Green, Princeton: something old, something new, Stanford's Folkl point
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March 03, 1997

A Sleeper's Dream

Tragedy and triumph at Bowling Green, Princeton: something old, something new, Stanford's Folkl point

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When Dayton center Chris Daniels died of cardiac arrhythmia on Feb. 8 of last year, he left behind a dream that his younger brother, Antonio, a senior point guard at Bowling Green, is now on the verge of fulfilling. "We dreamed of playing in the NBA," says Antonio. "A lot of things I do now, I think back to what he would have wanted me to do. He would have wanted me to finish our dream."

To that end Antonio, who averaged 16.0 points and 5.9 assists as a junior, has kicked his game into high gear this season after a summer of weight training and five-hour-a-night shooting sessions. His 23.2-point average through Sunday put him 11th in the nation and first in the Mid-American Conference in scoring. Add to that his 6.6 assists and 2.19 steals a game, 53.2% field goal shooting, 38.9% three-point shooting and 79.7% foul shooting—all good for the top 10 in conference statistics—and you get an idea of how he has led the Falcons to the best record in the MAC. And now there is talk that he could be the sleeper of the NBA draft. "Scouts tell me he is a legitimate first-round pick," says Bowling Green coach Jim Larranaga. "The single biggest difference I see in Antonio this year is his total commitment to the game. He has always been a basketball fanatic, but now he has taken it to another level."

What has the scouts excited are Daniels's shooting, ball handling, quickness and size. He's 6'4" and 195 pounds and has both an 80-inch wingspan and what Falcons trainer Mike Messaros calls "the largest damn hands I've ever seen." And there's the mental toughness forged from his personal tragedy. "I have a lot more motivation now," says Daniels. "I'm playing for two people."

Antonio's focus on reaching the NBA is just one way he honors Chris, who was 20 months older than Antonio but so close to him that their mother, Alice, says the two were "almost like twins." Before facing then No. 23 Eastern Michigan on Feb. 14, 1996, in his first game back after Chris's funeral, Antonio changed his jersey number from 10 to 33, the number Chris wore at Dayton. In that game, which Chris had long planned to attend and which Bowling Green won 72-70, Antonio scored 20 points, including his team's last six. On the game-winning basket he drove the length of the floor and scored with four seconds left after his defender fell down for no apparent reason. Antonio still marvels at the memory of that play. "Everyone says my brother tripped him," he says.

Beware of Tigers

Moments after his team upset Marquette 66-62 on Dec. 7 in Milwaukee, Princeton coach Bill Carmody began writing on a blackboard in the locker room at the Bradley Center. Carmody's torso blocked his words from view as he wrote, so it wasn't until he stepped aside that the players could see what he had written: "I'm very happy and I'm retiring."

Everyone laughed because that was basically the same thing longtime Tigers coach Pete Carril had printed on a blackboard on March 9 of last year, just after Princeton's 63-56 overtime victory over Pennsylvania in a one-game playoff that decided the Ivy League championship. But if Carmody's joke called to mind the legend who embodied Tigers basketball for 29 years, it also was indicative of a clear break from the past. Few coaches got more out of their players than Carril did, but warm, light-hearted moments were never his specialty. "I'm happy I got to play for Coach Carril, but do I miss him? No," says sophomore forward Gabe Lewullis. "Coach Carmody is demanding, but he's also understanding."

Welcome to the Bill Carmody era at Princeton, a kinder, gentler version of the same old excellence—witness the Tigers' 60-53 defeat of Dartmouth last Saturday, which improved their overall record to 21-3 and their Ivy mark to 11-0. It also clinched the conference crown and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it. Save for blowing a 19-point lead in a 74-62 overtime loss at home to Bucknell on Dec. 10, the Tigers have looked even more formidable than they did a year ago when they upended UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Besides having defeated Marquette and Texas-El Paso in their holiday tournaments, Princeton has beaten Texas A&M, Rutgers and Manhattan and hung tough before succumbing to Indiana and North Carolina. After watching helplessly as the Tigers sank 57.9% of their three-pointers in a 74-59 victory at the Palestra on Feb. 11, Penn coach Fran Dunphy said, "That was as impressive a demonstration of how to run their stuff as I've seen."

Indeed, since Carmody spent 14 seasons as an assistant under Carril, who was elected to the basketball Hall of Fame on Feb. 4 and is now an assistant with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, little has changed on the court at Princeton: At week's end the Tigers were leading the nation in fewest points allowed (52.9 per game), as they had for the last eight seasons, and 63.2% of the Tigers' field goals had come by way of assists. But Carmody has shown an ability to lift his players' spirits in a way the curmudgeonly Carril could not. For example, Carmody empties his bench in the waning moments of games in which the outcome has been decided, a policy Carril eschewed. "To see guys who work so hard in practice get rewarded is very important to me," says senior guard Sydney Johnson, Princeton's best player even though he was averaging only 8.5 points a game at week's end. "I appreciate the chance to play for a coach who respects that as much as I do."

In fact, were it not for the coaching change, sophomore guard Brian Earl probably would have gone elsewhere to play. Earl submitted a letter to the school last spring asking permission to transfer but changed his mind after meeting with Carmody. For his part Carmody says the reason he can afford to be so player-friendly is because Carril already imbued the Tigers with the habits of success. "I'm reaping the benefits of Pete's being so tough on those guys," Carmody says. "A couple of years from now, when I have to get all over my players, then I'll be considered the ogre."—SETH DAVIS

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