By Johnny Flores, Jr.
After finishing 21-9 overall and 8-6 in the Ivy League, Princeton University head basketball coach Mitch Henderson hopes to make his fourth season a winning one.
“The less you’re focused on the littlest of things the better off you are,” he said.
Henderson, clad in basketball shorts and a Princeton University polo shirt, said he’s enjoying his time away from basketball this summer. “August is a pretty good time for us,” he said. “We’re off the road which means we’re not recruiting.” In the off-season, Henderson spends time in the office as well as time with his wife and two children.
While the season doesn’t officially start until November, Henderson is already spending time thinking about the future and setting goals for the upcoming season. “The goal is, we have to be playing together. In sports, life and anything else it’s ‘How do you get people to not think about themselves?’”
Henderson, who played for the University from 1994 to 1998, led the team to some of its most successful seasons, including three trips to the NCAA tournament. In 1996, Princeton beat defending national champion UCLA. Henderson returned to campus in 2011 after a long stint coaching men’s basketball under Bill Carmody at Northwestern University. “I always wanted to come back,” he said. “It is an unbelievable place. I love the east coast.”
After more than a decade of coaching, Henderson said he still finds it rewarding. “I’m not bored. It’s so challenging, I like the challenge,” he said. “Being a part of something where it’s not about me.”
As Henderson looks to improve upon his past season he also realizes that even in defeat there are positives. “You have to focus on the positives even when we lose. They say it’s a game of inches and it is sometimes,” continued Henderson. “One play over the course of the game can change everything.”
Looking at the current state of Princeton basketball, Henderson believes the biggest faults involve the team’s defense. In the team’s final game last season against California State University at Fresno, the Tigers committed seven fouls and allowed five turnovers in the final 10 minutes.
“We didn’t play very well and it was a long way home,” Henderson said.
“I’d like to see us guard more consistently and defend more consistently,” Henderson said. “We can get to the foul line more often by being aggressive.”
Before coaching at Northwestern, Henderson briefly played professionally in Ireland, and with the Continental Basketball Association — the equivalent of baseball’s minor league farm system. He also spent 10 days with the Atlanta Hawks.
Now, he believes his place is deep within coaching and impacting student-athletes. Henderson played for legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril and hopes to pass the values he learned to his current players. Carril is “the number one reason why I’m coaching … It was a very impactful moment for me and I want to be the same for them.”
Carril developed Princeton’s renowned back-door offense and is one of Henderson’s many inspirations along with coaches Bill Kennedy, Gregg Popovich and Bob Knight.
Henderson believes in a relationship between coach and player that involves complete understanding and no glorification of one over the other.
“I like coaches whose teams’ play are a reflection of the coach … tough minded basketball and together,” Henderson said.
Moving forward, Henderson is very optimistic for the upcoming season. “I think we’re going to be good … I think we play an exciting game of basketball,” Henderson said enthusiastically.
“If we want success we’ll do it together. Your true character of who you are comes out on the basketball court.”