Princeton coach Mitch Henderson says Sweet 16 run ‘still feels pretty fresh’

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Princeton men’s basketball coach Mitch Henderson poses for a picture with Yankees slugger Aaron Judge.
amNewYork/Christian Arnold

Princeton men’s basketball coach Mitch Henderson posed for pictures next to Yankees superstar Aaron Judge and threw the first pitch on Wednesday when the Yankees hosted the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. All of it was part of what Henderson’s wife jokingly described as his “victory lap” following the Tigers’ Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

Henderson and the Princeton basketball team captured the imaginations of hoops fans in the tri-state area as the Tigers knocked off Arizona and Missouri before having their magical run ended by Creighton. In the process, Princeton became the first Ivy League school to reach the Sweet 16 in 13 years and the program made its first appearance in the second weekend of the tournament since the 1960s. 

“It still feels pretty fresh,” Henderson told amNewYork while on the field at Yankee Stadium. “At a school like ours, we try to do it in a way in which it’s really the student-athlete. Our team came together I think in some really cool and fun ways. And you find out that there’s a dynamic alumni base and fan base and university community that absolutely loves Princeton basketball.

“So it was really fun to be a part of that as we made our run. And then to see the way that the town and, again, the peers at the university react to the guys on the team. That’s why I’m here today. You know, I’m a beneficiary of some really good people.”

Coincidentally, had things gone a bit differently for Henderson he may have been at the ballpark long ago for a different reason. The Princeton coach was a two-sport athlete in Indiana and was drafted by the Yankees in the 1994 MLB Draft. Henderson opted to play basketball at Princeton and, as they say, the rest was history. 

Good thing too last year for the Tigers, who Henderson felt won basketball fans over with their gritty toughness and savviness on the basketball court. 

“We went 4-for-25 from three against Arizona and we won, so I think people appreciate that that are basketball fans,” he said. 

Henderson had gotten to make the rounds while Princeton was shocking the college basketball world during March Madness, but when asked what moment stuck out to him the coach described one away from the bright lights of the cameras.

“After we had won and clinched the Sweet 16, we ended up taking the Red Eye home.” Henderson described. “It was just everybody getting on that plane as we were leaving Sacramento and just the vibe and happiness there with everybody. You just got a sense of like, ‘Okay, this is something really big and special.'”

With the success of last season, there will be some pressure on Princeton to replicate some of its success next season. Caden Pierce, Matt Allocco, Zach Martini, Blake Peters and Xaivian Lee are all back next year which will give Hednerson plenty to pick up where they left off at.

And the Princeton coach is looking forward to the pressure.

“Now the expectations are quite a bit higher,” Henderson said. “I’m not saying it’s easier to coach, but you can start from a position of a high standard that’s quite good.”

Thanks to a raid delay on Wednesday, Hednerson’s first pitch came a little bit later than it was originally scheduled to take place. All the same, the moment still sunk in. 

“I’m gonna try to really appreciate the significance of this it’s. This is really special,” he said. 

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amNewYork/Christian Arnold