Willem H. (Butch) van Breda Kolff ‘45, who coached the Princeton men’s basketball team to the NCAA Final Four in 1965 and won nearly 800 games as a college and professional coach, died In August 2007 after a long illness at the age of 84.
van Breda Kolff came to Princeton from Hofstra in 1962 and led the Tiger program through one of its finest stretches in his five seasons on the bench. His Princeton teams made four NCAA tournament appearances, including the 1965 Final Four run led by All-America Bill Bradley, and won 20 or more games three times. His 1966-67 team finished the year with a top 10 national ranking and a 25-3 record, falling to North Carolina in overtime in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
His record at Princeton was an impressive 103-31 (.769) in five seasons. He ranks 74th on the list of winningest college coaches with 482 victories in 28 seasons.
He left Princeton in 1967 to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and took the Lakers to the NBA Finals in both of his seasons as the team’s head coach. He later coached the Detroit Pistons and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the ABA’s Memphis Tams and New Orleans Jazz.
A New Jersey native, van Breda Kolff started his coaching career at Lafayette College in 1951, coaching his eventual successor at Princeton, Naismith Hall of Famer Pete Carril, for one season. He then moved to Hofstra in 1955 and coached there for seven seasons before returning to his alma mater in 1962.
van Breda Kolff would return to both Lafayette and Hofstra later in his career, coaching the Leopards from 1984-88 and at Hofstra for six seasons beginning in 1988.
A member of Princeton’s Class of 1945, van Breda Kolff’s college career was interrupted by service in the Marines in World War II. He returned to Princeton after the war and captained the 1946-47 Tigers while earning a degree in psychology.
He also played professionally for the New York Knicks after graduation. His son, Jan, served as an assistant coach at Princeton and was later the head coach at Cornell, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine and St. Bonaventure.
About Butch van Breda Kolff '45
• Princeton head coach from 1962-67
• Led Tigers to the 1965 NCAA Final Four
• 103-31 in five seasons at Princeton
• 482 victories in 28 collegiate seasons
• Twice coached the L.A. Lakers to the NBA Finals
• Played professionally for the New York Knicks