Interview With Jimmy Tillette

Jimmy Tillette

Interview Conducted 10/17/2008

Getty Images/Doug Benc

Getty Images/Doug Benc

The Samford Bulldogs run a variation of Pete Carril’s Princeton Offense.

And it’s all because 12th year Head Coach Jimmy Tillette doesn’t play golf.

TILLETTE: “I needed something to do in the spring, so when I was an assistant coach [at Samford in the mid 1990’s], I decided I was going to investigate the Princeton system. I spent four or five hours a day looking at tapes. I initially took 99 pages of notes trying to figure out the Princeton Offense.”

“It has Plato’s definition of good judgment, the ability to discern the  difference in similar things and similarity in different things. So many things look the same, but are different, and vice versa.”

Tillette put together 20-30 offensive concepts on transparencies.

However, he ran into difficulties getting in touch with legendary Princeton head coach Pete Carril. During his coaching career, Carril refused to consult with opposing coaches about the Princeton Offense due to concerns that they would work to implement defenses designed to stop it.

TILLETTE: “Years ago, you’d call him saying ‘I want to talk about your offense’. He’d say ‘figure it out yourself’ and hang up the phone.”

“You had to fight. He’s a crusty old guy.”

“They got calls all the time from people saying ‘listen, I’ve been playing golf all summer, would you mind giving me all your hard earned ideas?’ They don’t have a lot of tolerance for that.”

Eventually, Tillette finally was able to convince then-Princeton Assistant Coach Bill Carmody to allow him to come up to share his ideas and learn more from the Princeton staff.

TILLETTE: “I put together 20 to 30 concepts on some transparencies. I really went up there like a geek bearing gifts. I showed them my work.”

Carmody and fellow assistant Joe Scott looked at Tillette’s work and explained the sophistication and nuances of the Princeton Offense.

When LSU hired John Brady in 1997, Samford promoted Tillette as Head Coach. Tillette’s 1997-98 Bulldogs were the youngest Division I team in the country. He had only one senior. The rest of his players were sophomores and freshmen. Tillette decided that season was a perfect time for the Bulldogs to implement the Princeton Offense.

TILLETTE: “Of course, we adapted it to our own style and the way we like to play. There’s a lot of ways to play it.”

“”I don’t think there’s one Princeton Offense. It’s constantly in flux and constantly changing. One of its strengths is its malleability. You can change it, but still retain the essence of it.”

He called his offense “SAM,” an acronym for spacing, angles, and movement, the three cornerstones of the Princeton Offense.

After going 14-13 his first season, Tillette and his Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament as the TAAC-auto bid the next two seasons.

Today, Tillette is the only head coach running the base Princeton Offense who was not a former assistant or player for Carril.

Tillette has two new adjustments for the 2008-09 basketball season.

First, his Bulldogs are moving from the Ohio Valley Conference to the traditionally stronger Southern Conference.

TILLETTE: “Obviously, there are a lot of challenges. First of which is Stephen Curry and Davidson. I don’t know what’s more difficult to guard, Stephen Curry or the Olympic torch.”

In addition, the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee voted to move the three-point line one foot back – from 19’9″ to 20’9″, effective for the 2008-09 season.

Tillette is not concerned about his players having difficulty shooting from longer distances. He will have to adjust the “SAM” offense during fall practice.

TILLETTE: “The biggest effect [the rule change] will have on us is  angles, because now you’re setting your screens and cutting different from where you are cutting from. For us, it’s more about spacing and angles.”

So what is Tillette’s outlook for the 2008-09 season?

TILLETTE: “My expectations are for us to improve and develop good judgment in running offense and making decisions and effort. We really have to play committed because we’re not the most gifted team physically.”

Jimmy Tillette Links:

Official Samford Biography

Sports Illustrated: Sept. 27, 1965 “Faces In The Crowd”:
15-year-old Jimmy Tillette

© 2008

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