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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Unique Journey for a Former Princeton Hoopster

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, Dave Blatt was a hard-nosed guard for the Princeton basketball team. During his tenure at Princeton, the Tigers tied for the Ivy title twice, going 1-1 in playoffs with Penn to determine which team would go to the NCAA Tournament. In his senior year, with Blatt relegated to less-than-full-time status because of the emergence of frosh PG Billy Ryan (who went on to be a two-time all-Ivy player) the Tigers thrashed Penn in their playoff game and then had the privilege of playing Danny Ainge and BYU in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It was a quick exit for co-captain Blatt and his teammates.

Most Ivy hoopsters don't play pro ball after they graduate. Almost none make it to the NBA, some play in Europe, but most move on with their lives like everyone else -- sales, marketing, law, medicine, investment banking, teaching, human resources, media, you name it, they do it.

But Dave Blatt was different. He went to Israel, played in their pro leagues for a while and then coached in the pro leagues there -- with great success. Now, after about two decades in Israel (where he last was an assistant coach with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the elite (pun slightly intended, as the last I heard the Elite Candy Company of Israel owned the team) team in the "A" league in Israel. Basically, Maccabi Tel Aviv has been to the Israel pro hoops league what the Boston Celtics were to the NBA during the Bill Russell era -- unstoppable.

But after all of those years in Israel, Blatt has moved on -- to Russia, where he is head coach of the 8-4 Dynamo St. Petersburg squad in the Russian "A" league. And while Blatt has taken some Israeli pro league stars with him, he hasn't taken the Princeton offense or even the Princeton defense with him. As this article from the Israeli daily Haaretz points out, the DSP squad plays a run-and-gun type of game, scoring about 90 ppg and giving up about 87 ppg. Not exactly Princeton-type numbers, relatively speaking, but given Dave Blatt's track record, who's to question the style or success. He obviously knows what he's doing.

And it's great to see that he's doing well.

So, while you read about Pete Carril's disciples doing well in the pro ranks (Eddie Jordan, for one, although Byron Scott's New Orleans team is rivaling the '72-'73 76ers for futility right now) and in college (Bill Carmody, Joe Scott, John Thompson and Chris Mooney), it's also great to see one of his former players faring so well on a road less traveled.

Even if he's not playing a purely Princeton-style of game. Because you can be sure that he's passing on a thing or two that he learned during Coach Carril's "classroom" session on the Jadwin Gym basketball floor.

Dave Blatt was always a very nice guy, very friendly, and he played his heart out. He didn't have the ability of some of his teammates, but he played the game with smarts and with heart.

As, I'm sure, the Dynamo St. Petersburg team is doing.

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