Gov. Murphy loving Princeton, FDU and March Madness: 'This is not a lightning strike'
When New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy dropped by the Princeton basketball team's practice Tuesday, before the Tigers traveled to Louisville for the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 showdown against Creighton, it wasn’t out of character.
One of his sons is a Princeton student and Murphy attended a game at Jadwin Gym earlier this season. Since becoming governor Murphy has attended multiple Rutgers home games and at least one Seton Hall home game each season. Last March he dropped in on the MAAC Tournament semifinals in Atlantic City to root for Saint Peter’s and Rider, and then showed up at the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional in Philadelphia for Saint Peter’s Sweet 16 upset of Purdue.
So he’s been fired up about Princeton and Fairleigh Dickinson busting brackets in this year’s Big Dance. Here’s what he had to say about Jersey college hoops during a phone interview Friday afternoon.
Q. As a fan of college basketball and obviously a fan of New Jersey, what’s it been like for you to watch these New Jersey underdogs become a national story these past 10 days?
A. “It’s really incredible. We’ve never had a talent issue here; it used to be that all the talent left. And that still happens – look at Alabama (with guard Jahvon Quinerly of Hackensack) and Miami (with guard Isaiah Wong of South Brunswick) with two New Jersey stars on them. But you’re seeing some of that talent start to stay home. You see it with Rutgers for sure with Cliff (Omoruyi) and Paul Mulcahy and Derek Simpson, who I think is going to be a superstar. You see a couple of Jersey guys who are big contributors on Seton Hall and Princeton. I think you’re going to see more and more of that now.
“The other observation I’d make - having seen Princeton play in person and watched them in the Ivy League Tournament and now - is they belong. This is not a lightning strike. This is a real team with real talent from around the world. There’s a certain maturity about this team, and their coach, Mitch Henderson, is a superstar.
“This is going to be a tough game against Creighton, but they belong. That was my message to them (at practice): 'Don’t let any folks tell you about Cinderella. You guys are right where you should be.'”
Q. What have you enjoyed most about watching these teams play?
“I love the fact that the whole world is on the other side and didn’t think these teams could win in the tournament. But you know what? Saint Peter’s had the run last year. I feel like we’re in a repeat loop because we’ve seen this before. Then people say, ‘Wait a minute, these Jersey teams are really good.’”
“Rutgers got jobbed (on Selection Sunday), but they’ve got momentum. Shaheen (Holloway) and Seton Hall are on the right trajectory. My guess is FDU, with the new coach, will benefit from this year.”
Q, In your bracket, when you picked FDU to beat Purdue – what kind of feedback did you get?
A. “It was hilarious. We might be the only bracket on the planet that had both of those. It was a little bit of a Jersey thing. But we had heard good things about the now-former FDU coach (Tobin Anderson), who was a real undiscovered gem.”
Q. Have you heard from the governors of any of these other states that Princeton and FDU have beaten? New Jersey has knocked Purdue out of the Dance two years running.
A. “I haven’t heard from Indiana or Missouri or Arizona. But there’s a lot of buzz from around the country and the world. We’re hearing from people from all over. A buddy of mine who lives in Indonesia sent me a New York Times article this morning about the basketball talent in New Jersey. People are noticing.”
Q. Have you spoken with Nebraska’s governor about Princeton-Creighton?
A. “Maybe after we win tonight.”
Q. A school in your backyard (Brookdale Community College) just won the national community college title.
A. “Unbelievable. Incredibly proud of them. Right down the street from me (Murphy lives in Middletown). First of all, New Jersey has one of the best community college systems in the country. And this is a badge of honor.”
Q. Where will you be watching tonight’s game?
A. “Governor’s Mansion with some friends and some of our kids. We’ll be wearing Princeton gear.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Princeton, FDU March Madness upsets has attention of Gov. Murphy