Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, we cover one of the greatest players in Princeton basketball history and the Big Red’s new head honcho:
Brian Earl, one of the Princeton Tigers’ best and best-loved players, is the new head coach at Cornell. It is his first head coaching job.
A gifted player, Earl was a member of three Ivy championship teams, including Pete Carril’s final season as head coach in 1995-96. Over the next two seasons, the Tigers went 51-6 overall and 28-0 in the Ivy League. Earl’s 1,428 career points rank seventh in Tiger history. He graduated as the league’s career leader in three-point field goals. A product of Medford Lakes, N.J., Earl started 113 games for the Tigers, a school record. He was named Ivy League Player of the Year in his senior year.
While his career is stocked with highlights, one game stands out in memory as perhaps the embodiment of Earl at his best, as much a demonstration of skill as one of an unbending will to win. On Feb. 9, 1999, the Tigers brought a 6-0 Ivy record to the Palestra for the first of the two matchups with arch-rival Penn. Earl’s first-minute three-pointer opened the scoring. Not to be outdone, the Quakers scored the game’s next 27 points, leaving the Tigers stunned and their fans in bedlam at the half. The first five minutes of the second half, saw the Quakers extend their lead to 40-13, as the Tigers appeared certain to suffer one of the more embarrassing losses to Penn in the long history of the series. Brian Earl then took over, leading the Tigers on the “Comeback of the Ages.” His game-high 20 points, mostly in the second half, and flawless ball handling down the stretch spurred the Tigers on a 37-9 run to seal a most improbable 50-49 win, easily the brightest Tiger moment at the Palestra in its storied history.
After a brief professional career and a few years in the corporate world, Earl returned to Jadwin as a key member of the staff of new coach Sydney Johnson, a former Tiger teammate. The new staff was faced with the task of turning around a Princeton program that had fallen into the Ivy cellar. In just four years, Johnson with Earl at his side brought the Tigers all the way back, winning the team’s 26th Ivy crown while compiling a glittering 25-7 record. In the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers nearly defeated Kentucky, bound for the Final Four, in yet another near-miss for the Ivy’s David against a Big Time Goliath.
When Johnson unexpectedly left Princeton a week later the early speculation on his successor focused on Brian Earl. Instead, Princeton plucked another Earl teammate, Mitch Henderson, from Bill Carmody’s Northwestern staff.
One of Henderson’s first moves as the new Tiger coach tells you a lot about both men. Henderson knew that he needed Brian Earl at his side. When he offered Earl the spot next to him on the bench, Brian, ever the great teammate, accepted. By 2015, he was formally recognized as associate head coach. Henderson’s tenure has been marked by sustained success, as the Tigers have contended for Ivy laurels each year, never finishing lower than third in the conference. Throughout his years as Henderson’s top assistant, Earl has performed with class and great skill, enhancing his reputation as a defensive strategist and an excellent recruiter. His understanding of the unique challenges facing players in the environment of the Ivy League and his embrace of the league’s values made it inevitable that a program in need of help would seek him out.
Brian Earl assumes his role as the 22nd head coach in Cornell history. No one who knows Brian Earl will be surprised if the Big Red are soon challenging for championships once again. While Princeton has lost a man of legendary status who will always be considered a Tiger, Cornell is getting a winner. Good luck and best wishes to you, Brian Earl, and thank you!!!