Former Tiger excited to be back

Originally Published: October 18, 2004
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Joe Scott got another reminder this week of why he left Air Force for Princeton, his alma mater.

One of his former players, Dan Nwaelele, was suspended for violating academy rules. No timetable is available for Nwaelele's return and new Air Force coach Chris Mooney essentially has no say in when, or if, Nwaelele will return.

Sure, Princeton has its own issues and standards. Scott recently lost forward Harrison Schaen when he didn't return to school this year for personal reasons, according to the university. If there were academic issues involved, that certainly would be out of Scott's control, too.

But it's still tougher at Air Force, not only to keep everyone on the roster and to recruit, but to move to another job if he so wanted.

So Scott's move from Air Force to Princeton shouldn't come as a shock -- even after he led the Falcons on a remarkable run to the Mountain West Conference regular-season title (12-2), the school's best record ever (22-7), and its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962.

Princeton is his home, and when John Thompson III went to Georgetown, there was no other choice but Scott.

"I don't want to say something negative about Air Force, but there are things that could happen there on a daily basis, like if (star center) Nick Welch were to drink a beer last season (and was suspended), then we would be below .500," Scott said. "Ultimately, there are things that go on there as a basketball coach that you don't have much control over. When decisions are made, you're not at the decision-making table. That all goes into the stability of being here. I feel really good that we can win here every year."

Princeton has as rich a basketball tradition as Kentucky, albeit at a different level. Basketball is the main sport at Princeton and always will be, regardless of the coach. Princeton enters every season as the co-favorite with Penn to get the NCAA bid out of the Ivy -- one of the two schools has won the league every season since 1989.

"Ultimately, I didn't want to wake up every March and wonder what jobs are open," Scott said. "You're always thinking the grass is greener if something comes up. But this place is special."

Scott's name did surface at Texas A&M, but if Billy Gillispie wanted the job (and he did, ultimately taking it), Scott wasn't going to beat out the former UTEP coach.

Scott, though, is excited about the possibilities at Princeton.

"This is a high-profile job," Scott said. "We're on TV. Basketball is the sport here. There is an excitement about basketball. We were building it at Air Force, but it's been here for 40 years. We're thinking how to upgrade here -- the players' lounge, the offices, those kinds of things over the next two years."

Scott still had a tough time making the decision since Air Force should be a contender in the MWC again. But he could have an even tougher team at Princeton. Thompson III wrestled with leaving his alma mater because he said the Tigers could have a special season, the kind that involves victories over Syracuse and Duke during the regular season and a win or two in the NCAA Tournament.

Not having Schaen and his inside scoring and defense hurts the Tigers in trying to win those types of games, but this team shouldn't have too much of an issue winning the Ivy.

"This program has a special tradition," Scott said. "It did go to a Final Four (in 1965). It has been in the top 10. I played here. I played for coach Carril. My friends are here. Princeton has the tradition. We all have the fondness for it. That's why it was hard to leave for John and why it was easy for me to come back."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com