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Kevin "Moon" Mullin interview.

In the history of the Ivy League, the player to score the most points in an NCAA Tournament game not named Bill Bradley is Princeton's Kevin Mullin '84.

As a senior Mullin was able to crack Pete Carril's starting lineup and alongside classmate Billy Ryan helped rally the Tigers from a 0-2 conference start to win a second straight Ivy League title. The man called "Moon" shot 61.8% from the floor for the year, averaging 17 points per game.

Princeton would defeat San Diego in a preliminary round of the tournament where Mullin scored a remarkable 38 points, 12-15 from the floor and 14-16 at the free throw line.

The lessons Mullin learned as a student-athlete at Princeton as well as his experiences both prior to college and subsequently in the professional world have inspired him to write "Student-Athletes - A Guide For The Future."

The book, available in both physical and electronic versions at Amazon, is Mullin's attempt to provide guidance for young people and their mentors facing situations similar to those he went through decades previous.

I had a wide-ranging 30+ minute conversation with Moon on the phone yesterday and you can read a transcript of our discussion about his playing days, a number of fantastic Coach Carril stories, challenges for today's student-athletes and more on his book after the jump.

Tell me about " Student-Athletes - A Guide For The Future." Why did you write the book?

I wanted to share lessons with student-athletes that I think are timeless and universal, that speak directly to the contemporary issues student-athletes are facing today.

The issues that student-athletes, their parents, their coaches, their mentors and their guidance councilors are facing are basically a perfect storm in terms of creating a very pressurized environment for everyone.

The cost of a college education is definitely the driving factor around the difficult issues that the student-athletes are facing. I felt that as an accomplished student-athlete with a great deal of experience I wanted to convey important messages to student-athletes and share valuable experiences during my high school years, at Princeton, with the Celtics and playing professionally in Europe.

I wanted to generate rich, ongoing dialogue about the student-athletes' future and stimulate important discussions that need to occur throughout the student-athletes' career. I think these discussions need to have more, almost brutal, honesty associated with them.

My intention was to write an easy, relatively quick and entertaining read for high school student-athletes. I'm finding that the book is applicable to a much broader audience because of the life lessons offered.

I saw a need for a book that served as a useful guide for parents, coaches and mentors as they attempt to provide the best possible advice to the student-athlete in an increasingly complex environment.

You're finding that the lessons you learned when you were an undergraduate are still applicable today?


For those who weren't student-athletes or have kids that are not likely to be either - tell me what can they learn from your book.

I there are a lot of lessons in the book. It is a rich anecdote-laden book. An example connects to the story you told me about Marvin Bressler and Nate Walton.

[Before we recorded this Q&A I relayed a tale of Professor Bressler advising Walton to go play overseas after he graduated because he would still have 60 years where he could work but very few where he could earn a living as a basketball player. - JS]

I didn't have that advice from Marvin. I was finishing my season in Sweden when my agent called me and said “Moon, I have a contract here in Australia if you would like to play.”

At the time I was so focused on applying my Ivy League degree to the business world and getting started in a career. I felt that playing basketball was something that had no long-term future. It wasn't leading anywhere and I really was gung-ho and charged up to get into a career that had long-term potential.

To this day I regret not going to Australia and playing one more year.

Life is a marathon, it is not a sprint. You have to pace yourself and make good short-term and long-term decisions. A lesson like that, which I learned and Nate Walton learned, sharing that lesson with folks - not just student-athletes - it is universal and it is timeless. That's good advice for anyone.

How has the book been received so far and has it been received in any ways that have surprised you?

I am actually taken back by the overwhelming response to the book - whether it is reader reviews or former teammates writing to me or journalists calling me after they've read the book to do an article - I am overwhelmed with the positive feedback. I also didn't think my book would strike such a raw nerve that exists out there which is what I called the perfect storm of issues that are effecting student-athletes.

Student-athletes today are under a lot of pressure to specialize early in their developmental years. There's a whole debate on whether specialization is good or bad. I do know that all year-round specialization is contributing to repetitive motion injuries and burnout. The competition among skilled, specialized athletes is fierce and it is adding to the pressurized environment.

Many student-athletes are now receiving conflicting advice from multiple sources - they have a high school coach, they have an AAU coach, they have their parents, they have their informal mentors, they have their guidance councilors - there are lots of points of input coming at the student-athlete and the advice is typically not congruent. It is difficult for them to navigate the waters and make clear decisions.

I think what is driving most of this Jon is that parents are facing staggering tuition costs. They are looking at expenses at prestigious universities around the country like Princeton and they're seeing that these schools are approaching a quarter of a million dollars to send their kid there. The average cost of a four-year degree in the United States is $80,000 now. There is a lot of financial pressure on the parents so if they see something promising in their student-athlete or even as a student performer or a student artist, they want to push their kid to be the best because they want some financial relief from the unprecedented costs of a college education today.

Kids that are coming up in high school have to travel all over the place to attend showcase camps in order to get recognized. With the exception of football - AAU leagues, where student-athletes are heavily scouted by colleges, are continuing to have an impact on high school sports. Some say that high school sports are almost becoming irrelevant.

Talking about specialization, when you were in high school you had to make the decision to choose between basketball and tennis. If you had access to have a book like this then, would it have effected your decision in any way?

Most definitely. When I was coming out of Gateway High School, I was an accomplished tennis player and an accomplished basketball player. I wanted to go to Princeton University. That was my goal. I thought it was the best academic institution in the world and that's where I wanted to go. I write a lot in the book that academics have to come before athletics.

When I came to Princeton I met with the tennis coach. He wanted to know what my national ranking was. My parents came from very modest means so I had only flown out to two national tournaments - I think the first I lost in the first round and the second I lost in the second round. I didn't even have a national ranking.

The tennis coach said to me, if you're not highly nationally ranked, we're one of the best tennis schools in the country, it is going to be difficult if not impossible for you to compete with these folks.

I was wide open. I would have played tennis, I would have played basketball.

Coach Carril came and watched me score 50 points in a high school down here in South Jersey. He was actually lying down on the bench smoking a cigar in the first half as if to say “I drove all the way down here but I don't expect to see anything.”

When I had 26 points at halftime on torrid outside shooting, he sat up for the second half.

I met him afterwards in the basketball office and he said to me “Moon, I saw you play and score 50 but I am not sure that I want you.”

I said “Oh? Why?”

“You can't dribble with your left hand. You can't pass the ball. You're a horrible defender. It doesn't seem that you have any insight into the game. You're skinny. You're not strong. You have no stamina. But, you can shoot. I can't teach that."

“When I look into your eyes Moon, I see something there. I see a kid that wants to be good, that wants to get better. I see someone who wants to be a player here someday.”

With that he cut a senior on the team who was five times the player that I was and made room for me as the 12th man on the varsity roster so that I could develop and improve.

When you find a coach like that who believes in you and is willing to take a chance on you, you'll do anything for that guy - you'll work as hard as you possibly can.

If the tennis coach had looked me in the eye and said “I see something there. You don't have a national ranking, I've watched you play and your backhand needs work but I really think that you could be good,” if the coach had said that to me I very possibly could have been a professional tennis player.

Is that your favorite Coach Carril story in the book or is there another one you find yourself particularly drawn to?

There are a ton of stories in the book that are entertaining and humorous about Coach. I think this is probably my favorite:

After I had scored 38 points at The Palestra in an NCAA Tournament game, I came back to Jadwin for practice the next day.

Just as a little background, whenever Coach would get furious at me a lot of times he would say “Mooooooooooon, you should have gone to Haverford and played tennis. You belong with that tennis crowd.”

I went in the locker room and all of my teammates took athletic tape and they put it everywhere it said Princeton on my jersey and my shorts and they wrote "Haverford" on the tape.

I came out on the court and I started shooting. Coach just lit up like a Christmas tree. I've never seen as big a smile on his face. He just started laughing and yelling “Mooooooon, what are you doing?” He was just so elated after a really, really difficult season.

That was to me like my exclamation on my college career. That was my signal to Coach that I did it.

I actually don't know how and when you got the “Moon” nickname.

As soon as I arrived in the basketball office Coach called immediately me “Moon.” Moon Mullins was his favorite cartoon character growing up. My teammates called me “Moonbeam” because I would shoot the ball from way, way outside - at that time it would have been an NBA three not a college three - I was almost stepping out of bounds.

When I do talks now at middle schools, high schools and colleges, I use that in my presentations a lot. Moonbeams are rays of light.

I tell a story about my high school, college or professional career. Let's take one for example: In high school fatigue was a huge issue for me. I got tired all the time and I had no stamina. I also had a terrible time dribbling with my left hand. I had a summer job that was five miles away from my house and I would run to work dribbling with my left hand on the road. Cars would pass by and look at me like I was crazy. I didn't care because I was so focused on my goal and I was so focused on becoming a better basketball player. On the academic side I would wake up at five in the morning and do my studying for tests and quizzes and do my homework every day.

After I tell a story like that then a student-athlete with a microphone will read a “Moonbeam.”

In that instance it might be Work Hard - Be Relentless - It Will Pay Off, something like that. I'm really enjoying these speaking engagements, telling colorful stories and anecdotes and then having them capped with a student-athlete reading a Moonbeam.

It seemed like right around the return from finals break in 1984, something clicked and you went from being a credible scoring threat to a dangerous scoring threat. Was there a skill you picked up over finals, or a change in attitude, or a change in coaching that led to your dominance over the last part of the Ivy season?

I think there was an increasing level of confidence that built throughout the season. It went to a crescendo when we played Yale. I was on the foul line trying to box out Chris Dudley. He hit me with a sledgehammer elbow to my chin and knocked me out unconscious. There was blood all over the hardwood. The trainer took me into the locker room - this was halfway through the second half - I said “You've got to get me back in there, do this as quickly as possible.” He said “It is a really deep cut and you really need stitches.”

I said “I'll worry about that later. Just put some butterfly strips on it. I need to get back in the game.”

He put the butterfly strips in. I was so focused and so confident in my ability at that point that I ran out of the room, I ran past my teammates on the bench, I ran past the coaching staff, past Coach Carril and checked myself in at the scorer's table.

By doing so, I'm told I set an unwritten record in Princeton basketball history. No one has ever checked into a basketball game without consulting with van Breda Kolff or Carril or whoever. I was in such a zone and I had so much focus that I was really oblivious that I didn't even stop and consult with the coaching staff.

When Kareem Maddox scored 30 or more twice in games last season, he became the second Princeton player since 1980 to accomplish this feat and you're the other person to do it - 30 versus Yale at the end of your senior season and then 38 against San Diego in the NCAA Tournament.

There was a very pivotal point in that season. Billy Ryan and I were the leaders of that team. I think Billy Ryan is still the all-time assists leader at Princeton [413 assists for his career and a school record 161 assists in the 1983-94 season - JS]. I give him a lot of credit for my success. I was on the receiving end of some his unbelievable passes.

We started the league and we were 0-2. We went to Harvard and Dartmouth and we lost both away games. Carril was absolutely furious. He came to practice and he sat down in a chair by the scorer's table, crossed his legs, smoked a cigar and looked straight ahead.

We were doing our warm-ups and it was way past time to get the practice started. Everyone was looking over at Coach and he just kept staring straight ahead. This went on and on and on until finally his assistant Bill Carmody started the practice. Carmody ran the whole practice and nothing from Carril.

We come down the next day and the same thing happens. He's sitting there smoking a cigar staring straight ahead. Carmody's runs the practice again.

We come down the third day, same thing - staring straight ahead smoking a cigar. Carmody starts the practice. About 10 minutes in Carril jumps off the chair and starts yelling “Moooooooooon, you should have never have come to school here! You should have been at Haverford! You should have played tennis! You belong with the tennis crowd!”

Then, he starts ripping into Billy Ryan. Billy had been an unbelievable player over a three year period. Carril just started laying into us, the two seniors on the team. He felt the season was over and that it was a waste and Billy and I were responsible.

Then he started coaching us to get ready for the Penn game. We went down to The Palestra and beat Penn pretty handily. He was very satisfied with that win. Now we were 1-2 and everybody - Carril and the team - were right back on track.

Carril was crazy like a fox. I think he sat there staring straight ahead smoking a cigar because he had a purpose.

When we won that Penn game, that was sort of the start where I really started developing a lot of confidence in my game. I think the unique aspect of me as a player is that I played pickup basketball in Dillon Gym all the time. Because it was pickup street ball I developed skills like a machine gun crossover dribble and spin move. I was able to generate shots on my own. Most Princeton basketball players score within the system - they'll do a pattern backdoor cut or they'll come off a screen that is a part of the system and that's the way they score.

I basically took the basketball, faced the basket and generated my own shot. In that way I was a very atypical player for Carril.

You've established a career in Human Resources, a field that has significantly changed over the last 20 years as law and culture have evolved. What do you find to be the challenges of operating in that changing environment?

Most of my work today is as a leadership coach. I help C.E.O.s and senior executives become more dynamic and effective leaders. Almost every principle of leadership that I teach has some connection to what I learned and experienced as a student-athlete, that's for sure.

In my own experience, Pete Carril was the most dynamic and effective leader that I had ever seen. I guess that's why he is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

You coached high school basketball. How much did that experience affect how you view the contemporary student-athlete?

I coached in both private and public schools. That was my opportunity to get real close to the kids and their parents. That's where I really connected with the high school student-athlete. We had outstanding all-conference players that were having difficulty finding a place to play anywhere. We had a lot of kids I thought could play basketball, not at Division I but at some other level, not be able to find opportunities.

That's where I really started to get interested in student-athletes, particularly their preparation for college and bridging their athletic and academic career into an optimal college situation.

I think one thing also that I notice is that there doesn't seem to be too many student-athlete role models out there for kids today. When I came up Senator Bill Bradley and humanitarian Arthur Ashe were my two role models. A lot of times as I talk to people about the book and I talk to kids and student-athletes, they're all following Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James and all this kind of stuff but when it comes to student-athletes they're sort of at a loss in terms of role models. I think society needs more role models for them.

Finally, who was a better passer: Billy Ryan or Mitch Henderson?

I never played with Mitch Henderson but there's only one player I played with that was a better passer than Billy Ryan and that was Larry Bird.

We actually nicknamed Ryan “Bird” because of Larry Legend. We felt he had that kind of court vision.

We played UNLV and he was at the top of the key. They were playing a matchup zone and I was underneath the basket. He fired a pass that somehow got through all five players. It hit me in the chest. I wasn't expecting it at all. It almost knocked my breath out a little bit, I caught it and I went right up and got snuffed by the bottom of the backboard because I was so startled that he could actually get the ball to me in that situation. Billy was an awesome player.

I really appreciate your time today, Kevin.

Thanks so much. I appreciate your interest.

Rodney Johnson said,

June 15, 2011 @ 3:02 pm

Great interview, Jon

Jon Solomon said,

June 15, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

Thanks. A lot of credit is due to those who sent in outstanding questions.

Perhaps someone reading this has a VHS of the 1984 NCAA game vs. San Diego I could digitize?


Coco said,

June 16, 2011 @ 10:31 am

Love hearing/reading the Carril stories.

Very much hope someone would coordinate an effort to pull together a collection of them for posterity's sake, particularly from the individual players.

For those of us who only know Pete from his court side antics or witty, cryptic comments at a press conference or speaking engagement, having access to practice and the locker room only increases our appreciation of the legend.

Another interview with Mullin posted earlier in the week contains a comment Pete made to Mullin suggesting that his favorite song must have been Linda Ronstadt's "Blue Bayou," because when Mullin played defense, his man simply "blew by you!"


Rodney Johnson said,

June 16, 2011 @ 10:45 am

Hilarious anecdote...I would never have guessed Carril even listened to pop music.

It would seem easy in this digital age to acquire the five favorite Carril anecdotes from all or almost all of his former players by e-mail, and then collate and publish them, perhaps with a chance for Coach to comment.

I volunteer Jon for the job.

Jon Solomon said,

June 16, 2011 @ 10:48 am

Let me finish my Marvin Bressler book first!

Steven Postrel said,

June 16, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

Excellent interview. I remember seeing Kevin in the game program when he was a sophomore, where it said he'd once scored 50 in a high school game and was a tennis champion. That was not a team with tremendous scoring punch and I remember thinking that maybe we could use a guy with that kind of talent.

As the season wore on, Kevin would come in for brief intervals and it seemed to me that he made good things happen--hitting shots, making smart passes, getting to loose balls. I kept saying to my friends that he should play more--not knowing that he had stamina issues or that Carril didn't like his defense. A couple of years later, I was pleased and surprised to hear that he was the primary scorer on the team.

Some of the news reports at the time described him as playing in the high post a lot, which struck me as odd at the time--was that accurate?

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