How Princeton women’s basketball clawed its way to the top of the Ivy League

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team’s campaign ended all too quickly due to COVID-19, but not before demonstrating the enduring strength of the program under a new coaching staff. (Princeton Athletics)

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team was by no means a “one-hit wonder.”

It was the product of a process begun more than a dozen years ago. Successful coaches do more than win games; they build a program, an organization that can produce highly competitive teams year after year. Successful programs are designed to withstand graduations, injuries, and the inevitable clash of egos and personalities in groups of a dozen or more highly competitive and talented individuals. To achieve success in college basketball over time is incredibly difficult. To achieve credibility on the national scene with a mid-major program and no athletic scholarships defies belief. Princeton has done that.

In 1970, the 225th year of Princeton’s existence, school administrators decided to adopt the revolutionary idea of coeducation, not coincidentally, I have always believed, in the year following my graduation. One year later, varsity basketball was introduced as a women’s intercollegiate sport. The Tigers enjoyed early success, winning the first four Ivy titles following the launching of a women’s postseason tournament in 1975. (The women played a postseason tournament until 1982. In 2017, the present tournament format was adopted. The top four men’s and women’s teams compete at the same site over the same weekend to determine the league’s NCAA representatives.)

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Shonn Miller transfers to UConn

Shonn Miller chose UConn after Ivy rules forbade him from returning to Cornell for another year. (USA Today Sports)
Shonn Miller chose UConn after Ivy rules forbade him from returning to Cornell for another year. (USA Today Sports)

Shonn Miller is headed to the Huskies.

Since the Ivy League prohibits the participation of graduate students and Miller, missed the 2013-14 season following shoulder surgery, the 2014-15 first-team All-Ivy senior forward still has a year of eligibility to spend at a non-Ivy school. Now he’ll spend it at four-time national champion UConn, where he is instantly eligible.

“It just felt like home,” Miller told ESPN.com. “I got along with all the players and everybody in general just welcomed me like I was a part of their family.”

Miller was a boss at both ends of the floor last season, notching 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals in 31.3 minutes per contest. He finished second in the Ivy League in scoring, rebounding and free throw percentage, as well as fourth in both blocks and three-pointers made, and eighth in steals. There’s really not a lot that Miller can’t do, and his absence in 2013-14 hit Cornell like a ton of bricks, with the Big Red going 2-26 without him.

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