Princeton men’s recruits look to help team return to form in 2018-19

Even though the Princeton men’s team lost Ivy Player of the Year Spencer Weisz, first team All-Ivy Steven Cook and 25 game starting center Pete Miller from the undefeated regular and postseason Ivy champions of 2016-17, last year’s team was still expected to challenge for the 2018 Ivy title. Selected third in the preseason media poll, the Tigers trailed Yale by three points and Harvard by only eight, while picking up three first-place votes. With returning first team All-Ivy and conference Defensive Player of the Year Myles Stephens, honorable mention All-Ivy Devin Cannady and a resurgent Amir Bell anchoring the back court, Princeton entered the season optimistic that the new frontcourt would develop by the start of league play to give the team a shot at a repeat.

Early-season losses to Butler, BYU, St. Joseph’s, and Miami contributed to a 2-5 start for the Tigers. They rebounded in the later part of the non-conference schedule, including a 103-93 overtime victory at USC, to pull even at 7-7 by the start of the Ivy schedule. Despite an opening game loss at the Palestra to an improved Penn, Princeton found itself at 3-1 in league play, following an overtime win against Yale. The Tigers then, unexpectedly, went 0-7 with three overtime defeats and losses to each of the previous year’s lower division teams. After two wins against Dartmouth and Brown, Princeton entered the regular season finale with a solid shot at the fourth spot in the Ivy Tournament.  The Tigers got the necessary Harvard win over Columbia, but they lost by four to Yale, in their fifth overtime game of their Ivy season. In 2018-19, the Orange & Black (13-16, 5-9 Ivy) will look to put last year’s fifth-place effort behind them and show the rest of the conference that they belong in the league’s upper division.

Following their season ending loss, the Tigers said goodbye to their graduating class of Bell, Alec Brennan, Aaron Young and Mike LeBlanc. Bell, who was named the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year, finished his senior season with 29 starts, averaging 34.5 minutes (fourth in Ivy), 10.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists (fourth) and 1.3 steals (third) per game. He completed his career with 118 games played (tied for fourth all-time at Princeton), 1.043 points (31st) and 313 assists (sixth). Brennan played in 103 contests in his four years, averaging 2.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. Young took part in 89 contests with 2.5 points per game, while LeBlanc played in 58 games with 1.4 points per game.

Looking back at last year’s numbers, the offense was one of the most methodical in the nation (adjusted tempo of 64.5, #328), as well as one of the most accurate.  The Tigers were in the top 100 nationally in effective field goal rate (53.9 percent; #58), three point shooting (37.3 percent; #61), two point shooting (52.1 percent; #84) and turnovers (16.5 percent; #46).  While they were near the bottom of the country in getting to the free throw line (FT rate of 26.1 percent; #334) and protecting the offensive glass (22.1 percent rebounding rate; #334), their field goal accuracy lessened the effects of those numbers.

While the offensive statistics were not significantly different from the championship year of 2016-17, the defensive numbers were another story.  The Tigers opponents, who averaged 10.4 more points a game than the previous year, had an effective field goal rate of 52.2 percent (#239), three points shooting of 35.9 percent (#228) and two-point production of 51.2 percent (#227).  The previous year, Princeton allowed opponents an effective field goal rate of 48.7 percent (#91), shooting 34.5 percent (#137) from three and 46.9 percent (#79) from two.  The Tigers had a comparably strong year on the defensive glass with a 75.1 percent rebounding rate (#33; 75.2 percent and a #24 ranking in ’16-’17), but they had a significant decline in defensive pressure.  They forced turnovers at a 16.6 percent rate (#280) and steals at a 6.6 percent rate (#326) last season, compared to 20.2 percent (#65) and 10.2 percent (#50) the previous year.  To bounce back in 2018-2019, Princeton will need to find one or more people to replace Bell’s numbers in the backcourt, while getting improved defensive production across the rotation.

Mitch Henderson’s Tigers will return the talented seniors Stephens and Cannady in the back court, while having two experienced sophomores, Jerome Desrosiers and Sebastian Much, down low.  Last year, Stephens, a second team All-Ivy selection, averaged 34.4 minutes (sixth in Ivy), 15.3 points (eighth), and 6.3 rebounds (fourth) per contest, while shooting 52.0 percent from the field (sixth) and 41.2 percent from three (eighth).  Cannady, another second team All-Ivy choice, averaged 36.7 minutes (first), 16.7 points (fifth), 2.8 made threes (first) and 5.4 rebounds (13th) per game.  In addition, he hit free throws at 88.2 percent (first), threes at 39.4 percent (10th) and field goals at a 45.2 percent (14th).  After three years, he sits at 1,244 points and 218 three-pointers.  If he can match his 484 points and 80 made threes from this past season, he will end up second for Princeton in points, trailing only Hall of Famer Bill Bradley, and first in made threes, besting current Cornell head coach Brian Earl.

The 6’7″ Desrosiers played in all 27 games, averaging 15.4 minutes, 6.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.  In league play, he averaged 17.3 minutes, 7.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per contest.  The big man could hit from the outside, making 37 treys at a 41.6 percent rate (seventh in Ivy).  The 6′ 8″ Much started 19 of the team’s 27 game, averaging 19.6 minutes, 7.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.  He could also shoot the three, hitting 35 baskets at a 36.8 percent rate.

The Tigers welcome five new first years to school this fall, none more highly touted than Jaelin Llewellyn.  The 6′ 2″ point guard from Ontario spent his first two years at Canadian power Orangeville Prep, then transferred to Virginia Episcopal for his final two seasons.  The four-star (ESPN) athlete chose Princeton over conference rival Harvard, as well as big name programs like Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Stanford, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State, Creighton, Georgetown, Providence, Cincinnati and Rhode Island.

The Busting Brackets website listed Llewellyn as the ninth best mid-major recruit (Harvard’s Noah Kirkwood is #10) and Bleacher Report has him as one of “The 10 Names You Need to Know in the CBB Recruiting Class of 2018”.  According to this article, Llewellyn is the highest rated Princeton recruit over the last 15 years (#90 by 247 Sports, while Max Schaefer was #203 in 2003 and Ian Hummer was #232 in 2009).  In his junior year, he averaged 17.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game.  Through the first 23 games of his senior campaign, he had 23.0 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest.  In discussing his playing style with the Daily Princetonian, Llewellyn stated that “it could be described as a quick, athletic, and aggressive guard that can score, and loves to put teammates in positions to be successful.”

Joining Llewellyn  in the back court are Ethan Wright and Max Johns.  Wright is another 6′ 2″ point guard, who attended Newton North High School (MA).  According to Verbal Commits, he held offers from Yale, Brown, Vermont, Colgate, Boston University, and Delaware.  The two time Bay State Conference MVP, 2018 McDonald’s All-America nominee and 2018 USA Today first team All-State guard averaged 26.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.  While he was an elite scorer, netting over 1,000 points by the end of his junior year, his coach noted the positives on the defensive end.  “He rebounds the ball bigtime,” Paul Connolly told Wicked Local Newton. “He’s our leading rebounder right now and he plays tough defense. I could put him on the other team’s best offensive player, and I have done that. He is capable of that responsibility.”

Max Johns is a 6′ 3″ shooting guard from Woodberry High School in Central Virginia, who missed his junior year due to a torn meniscus suffered during an offseason soccer game.  He came back strong In his final season, averaging 19.8 points (52 percent shooting) and 9.5 rebounds per night.  For his efforts, he was named first team All-Central Virginia and second team VISAA Division 1 All-State.  According to the C’ville Varsity newspaper, Johns picked Princeton after considering basketball offers from Lafayette and Old Dominion.  He also had academic options at North Carolina, Chapel Hill, as a finalist for the Morehead-Cain scholarship and the University of Virginia, where he was in the running for its Jefferson scholarship.

Drew Friberg and Colby Kyle will join the Orange & Black in the front court.  Friberg is listed as a 6′ 5″ wing from State College (PA), who had offers from Yale, Penn, Brown, Columbia, Penn State, Bucknell, Lehigh, Navy, Boston University, Lafayette, William & Mary, Mount St. Mary’s, Manhattan, New Hampshire, Binghamton, and Delaware.  He was named first team Class 6A Honors All-State in 2017-18, after averaging 20.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game.  He put in 1,623 points over the last four years, including a career high 49 points in an overtime win against Harrisburg this year.  According to a scouting report at City of Basketball Love, “Friberg’s a 3-point specialist with good size who can also bring the ball up the court and post up if he gets in a mismatch situation against an opposing guard.”

Colby Kyle is a 6′ 9″ power forward from Monroe High School in the Seattle area, who had offers from Columbia, Dartmouth, Cal Poly and Seattle Pacific.  This past season, he was named first team All-Area by the Everett Heraldnet and All-WESCO, in addition to averaging 19.6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks per contest.  Profiles last fall in the Everett HeraldNet and Prep Hoops noted that Kyle’s strength has always been his blocking ability, but he has succeeded in developing strong inside and outside games on both sides of the ball.  “Colby’s as good as we’ve had in our league in a long time,” said a rival coach, who has been in the WESCO conference for almost twenty years.  “He’s a unique player because he can dominate the game on both ends.  He’s a really complete big man.”