The 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Gary Walters and Chris Thomforde on the Feb.
27, 1967 cover of SI.
(Sports Illustrated)
Is it really a debate? Many scribes and Ivy observers say no. The greatest Ivy team of all time? Easy.
It’s either the 1964-65 Princeton Tigers with the greatest Ivy player ever, Bill Bradley, or the 1970-71 Penn Quakers with their gaudy 28-1 record, which included a perfect 26-0 in the regular season.
Those Tigers never rose higher than No. 20 in the polls, and that Penn team had the bewildering 90-47 loss to a Villanova team which it had beaten during the regular season.
But wait a minute. How about the long forgotten 1966-67 Princeton team, coached by Butch van Breda Kolff? They did a few things which no other Ivy has done.

The Tigers that season went 25-3 and 13-1 in Ivy play, beating No. 2 UNC at fabled Carmichael Arena. They blew out the second-best Rutgers team ever, led by All-American Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano, on the road and came within a hair of beating Carolina again, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-70 in overtime, after beating West Virginia in the first round. They came back to blast a very strong St. John’s team in the Regional consolation game, rising as high as No. 3 in the polls and finished No. 5.

 Who better to ask than Gary Walters, the star sophomore point guard on the ’64-’65 team and the all-everything on the ’66-’67 team? There is no question in his mind that the latter Tiger team was superior. It didn’t boast the best player in the land in Bradley but nevertheless enjoyed incredibly balanced scoring and rebounding and probably was the only team in the country capable of giving the Lew Alcindor-led UCLA national championship team a run for its money.
Two Princeton players adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 27, 1967, whose title read, “Princeton Builds a Basketball Dynasty.” That was probably prophetic, as from 1964 to 1979, Princeton was easily one of the top 20 programs in the country. The ’66-67 Tigers’ two top players were Walters and sophomore center Chris Thomforde from Long Island. Thomforde had a tremendous high school career and chose Princeton over the likes of Northwestern, Duke and Dean Smith’s UNC. Frosh were not eligible to play varsity when Thomforde entered, and his frosh team was undistinguished.
Thomforde had to beat out talented Robinson Brown for the coveted center spot on the varsity and did so quickly. Brown was classy about losing his spot and at times, both players played simultaneously. Thomforde and Walters developed a quick chemistry and played like veterans together. Thomforde cites the road Rutgers blowout win and the win at UNC as season highlights and firmly believes that the ’67 team could have competed with UCLA for the national championship if it had not entered the NCAA tourney so injured. Thomforde had played competitively against Alcindor in high school. But Walters had injured his hamstring against Rutgers, John Haarlow had a high ankle sprain and Ed Hummer had a bad hip.
Thomforde got to know Bradley in his junior season, when Bradley returned from his two-year Rhodes Scholarship stint. They have maintained a lifelong friendship. Bradley credits Thomforde for playing on the second-best Princeton team of all-time. Thomforde felt that he knew better but never engaged the former New Jersey senator and presidential candidate in a debate on the topic. He respected Bradley far too much.

Read moreThe 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Ivy 60 for 60: Gary Walters

Gary Walters – a classic Princeton Tiger in the classic Princeton era. (Princeton Varsity Club)

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:

The contributions of Gary Walters to the Ivy League and to his beloved Tigers cannot be overstated. His ties to Princeton basketball began before the arrival of Pete Carril, and his professional role at the university continued for nearly two decades after Carril’s retirement.

Recruited as a point guard by Butch van Breda Kolff, Walters enjoyed great success at Reading (PA) High School playing for … you can’t make this stuff up … Pete Carril.  A key player on Bill Bradley’s Final Four team in 1965, Walters led the 1966-67 Tigers to 25 wins and a top-five national ranking. No Tiger would win as many games for the next 30 years. A talented ball handler and passer, Walters is remembered as a tenacious defender, perhaps the best in the league over his career.

Read moreIvy 60 for 60: Gary Walters

Ivy 60 for 60: Geoff Petrie

Geoff Petrie (24) averaged 21.8 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game during his Princeton career. (Princeton Athletics)

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.

When Butch van Breda Kolff left Princeton for the glitz and glamor of the NBA after the 1967 season, the Tiger tank was anything but empty. Among the players Pete Carril found on his roster were two future NBA draftees, John Hummer and the subject of this profile, Geoff Petrie.

Petrie was, quite simply, the best player I have ever seen in a Tiger uniform. I did not see Bradley in person, and all must acknowledge that he was the most important player, if not the greatest, in the history of the League. Nevertheless, a strong case can be made that Petrie is the best player ever. (Paul Hutter makes it in his wonderful 2014 volume, The Golden Age of Ivy League Basketball.)

Read moreIvy 60 for 60: Geoff Petrie

Cornell all-time moment No. 9: Cornell defeats Bill Bradley – The Blaine Aston shot

Cornell Box Score

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Cornell is next because once upon a time, Barton Hall was a buzzer-beater biosphere. 

Cornell has a few impressive wins in its history. Defeating defending national runner-up Ohio State in 1940, taking down Kentucky 92-77 in 1966 and beating a Cal team featuring two future NBA players, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, in 1992. (Spoiler alert: Some big wins have intentionally been left out. They will be covered later in Cornell’s top 10 all-time moments.)

Arguably, the most impressive of them all is what occurred on Jan. 16, 1965.

There’s plenty of healthy debate over who is the best team in Ivy League history. The 1979 Penn team? One of Jim McMillian’s Columbia teams? The 1998 Princeton team? 2010 Cornell?

Sam MacNeil’s 1965 Cornell team did finish 19-5, but will never be in this conversation. On the other hand, the ‘65 Princeton team, led by future Hall of Famer Bill Bradley might start and end the debate.

Read moreCornell all-time moment No. 9: Cornell defeats Bill Bradley – The Blaine Aston shot

Princeton all-time moment No. 2: The 1965 Final Four run

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We’re starting with Princeton because Bill Bradley would have made an excellent 43rd President of the United States.

By 1965, Butch van Breda Kolff and his All-American, Bill Bradley, had captured the hearts of college fans beyond the Ivy League. Winners of two straight Ivy titles, the Tigers entered the campaign as the clear favorite to claim a third. The national experts did not, however, believe the Tigers deserved any consideration for national ranking. The Ivy League was, after all, still the Ivy League.

Bradley was one of five seniors who had been through many battles together. They were joined by juniors Don Rodenbach and Robert Haarlow, as well as a talented sophomore class who would themselves notch an Ivy crown in their careers. The sophomores included Gary Walters, a product of Reading High School where he was coached by Pete Carril, and Ed Hummer, the father of Ian Hummer, who would graduate in 2013 as the second-leading scorer in Tiger history.

Read morePrinceton all-time moment No. 2: The 1965 Final Four run

Princeton all-time moment No. 3: Pete Carril to the Hall of Fame

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We’re starting with Princeton because that’s where T.S. Eliot is from. “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michael Bechtold…”

Princeton University was most fortunate that Peter J. Carril, a high school basketball star

from Bethlehem, Pa., decided to play for Lafayette and coach Butch van Breda Kolff. A decade and a half later, when VBK succumbed to the lure of Hollywood’s bright lights, his diminutive protégé was installed as his successor after only one season of college coaching at Lehigh in his hometown.

Read morePrinceton all-time moment No. 3: Pete Carril to the Hall of Fame

Q&A with former Princeton athletic director Gary Walters

Gary Walters and his classmates celebrate Princeton's Final Four bid in 1965.(paw.princeton.edu)
Gary Walters and his classmates celebrate Princeton’s Final Four bid in 1965.(paw.princeton.edu)

Very few people have had a stronger impact on Princeton basketball than Gary Walters, who served as his alma mater’s athletic director for 20 years before retiring earlier this year and was a point guard for the Tigers from 1964-67. He was starting point guard on Princeton’s 1964-65 Final Four Team, and we caught up with the Ford Family Athletic Director Emeritus to ask him about his memories of that legendary squad for its 50th anniversary.

Q: What were your expectations going into the 1964-65 season?
A: Very high based on any number of factors, including having the national player of the year and Olympic captain in Bill Bradley and a strong sophomore class, all recruited by coach Butch van Breda Kolff.

Read moreQ&A with former Princeton athletic director Gary Walters

50th anniversary of 1965 Princeton Tigers’ Final Four berth

Bill Bradley still owns the top 11 scoring games in Princeton history 49 years after graduating.
Bill Bradley still owns the top 11 scoring games in Princeton history 49 years after graduating.

This is the 50th anniversary of arguably the greatest Ivy League basketball team of all time, the 1964-65 Princeton Tigers.

Princeton was coached by the legendary Butch van Breda Kolff and was led by one of the five greatest players in college basketball history, Bill Bradley, as well as a host of other complementary players.

The Tigers finished the season at 23-6 and 13-1 in the Ivies, suffering only an upset loss on the road to a strong Cornell team. They had a stirring 109-69 NCAA win over No. 4 Providence on the road and finished third in the country with a 118-82 win over Wichita State and future New York Knick Dave Stallworth in a game in which Bradley scored 58 points to set an NCAA tournament record. We will be providing our readers with weekly capsules of significant games in conjunction with interviews with key players on that team.

Stay tuned.