Sydney Johnson '97, who as a player was named Ivy League Player of the Year and as a coach helped lead a team to the NCAA Final Four, was formally introduced as the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green '40 Head Coach of Men's Basketball at Princeton in a press conference Monday at the Class of 1956 Lounge in Princeton Stadium.
Johnson, the 28th head coach of men's basketball at Princeton, will begin his duties immediately. He replaces Joe Scott ’87, who resigned March 20 to become the head coach at the University of Denver.
“I’m a big-picture person," Johnson said on Monday in front of the assembled media. "My 'big picture' is how we approach every single day. I think highly of this university and this program. I want to impress upon our young men things about our program and the great tradition here and how we’ll work hard every day as a group. I want tomorrow to be better than today and if we can follow that, the rest will follow.”
“As a player at Princeton, Sydney Johnson was the embodiment of heart, passion, class and dignity,” says Gary Walters ’67, Princeton’s Director of Athletics. “We are delighted that he will bring those same qualities back to Princeton as our head men’s basketball coach.”
“I want to work with our guys; I can’t wait to get this (press conference) over with," joked Johnson on Monday when asked about his immediate plans. "We have workouts scheduled for today and I can’t wait to work with the team.”
Johnson, the only three-time captain in Princeton history, was the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year and a 1996 and 1997 first-team All-Ivy League selection. He has most recently been an assistant coach at Georgetown, where he helped lead the Hoyas to the 2007 Final Four.
Johnson played professional basketball for seven seasons in both Italy and Spain before joining John Thompson III’s coaching staff at Georgetown in 2004. In his three seasons as an assistant coach at Georgetown, the Hoyas had a 72-30 overall record and advanced to postseason play each season.
The Hoyas won both the BIG EAST tournament and regular-season championships in 2007 before reaching the program’s first NCAA Final Four since the 1984-85 season. Georgetown finished 30-7 overall and won 19 of its last 21 games before falling to Ohio State in the national semifinals.
Georgetown reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2006, defeating Northern Iowa and Ohio State before falling to eventual national champion Florida 57-53 in the third round. In Johnson’s first season as an assistant coach, 2004-05, the Hoyas won 19 games and reached the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
“Sydney is a star as a person and as a basketball coach,” says Thompson, who also was an assistant coach at Princeton during Johnson’s junior and senior seasons.
“I’m not sure I have enough words to describe how much I learned in three years at Georgetown from Coach Thompson,” says Johnson. “He’s not only a mentor and a role model both on and off the court but a great example of the kind of person I hope to emulate and the kind of person that makes Princeton proud.”
At Princeton, Johnson was a four-year starter who is considered one of the finest all-around players in team history. He ranks in the top five at Princeton all-time in steals, assists and three-point shots and is also one of 26 1,000-point scorers in team history.
Johnson was the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year after leading the Tigers to an undefeated Ivy League season and a 24-4 overall record. Johnson, who averaged 9.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as a senior, is the only player to ever win the award while averaging fewer than 10 points per game.
In 1996, Johnson led the Tigers to an Ivy League championship and was a key part of Princeton’s 43-41 upset win over defending national champion UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament, hitting three second-half three-pointers in that game and leading the team with 11 points. In the Ivy League playoff game against Penn five days earlier, his three-point shot with 51 seconds left in overtime put the Tigers ahead for good.
The program’s all-time leader in steals with 169, Johnson was a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection. He finished his Princeton career with 1,044 points, now 24th on the team’s all-time list, though he was perhaps better known for his defensive ability than for his offensive prowess.
“Sydney was the best defensive player I coached at Princeton,” said Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, who was an assistant coach at Princeton for 14 seasons and then Johnson’s head coach in 1996-97. “He was a tremendous player and a great leader, and he worked as hard every day as any player I’ve been around.”
“I always thought from the very beginning when I recruited him that he had excellent leadership qualities,” says Naismith Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril, Johnson’s head coach at Princeton for three seasons and a member of the advisory committee that helped select Johnson as head coach. “As a coach, you apply all of those qualities and your experiences. He will do a fine job for Princeton.”
Johnson, who also ranks fifth all-time at Princeton in both three-point shots (162) and assists (280), was also a two-time Academic All-Ivy selection and the winner of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in 1997.
He also holds the school record with 11 consecutive three-point shots, which included a team record 6-for-6 performance from behind the arc against Columbia on Feb. 28, 1997.
Professionally, Johnson had a fine career in Europe after graduating from Princeton with a degree in history in 1997. In 1998, he was a starter for Gorizia Pallacanestro in Italy and helped his team capture the Italian Second Division championship. The following year, he won another league title while playing for Reggio Calabria, and he concluded his playing career in 2004 by winning a league title with Siena.
A native of Towson, Md., outside Baltimore, Johnson attended Towson Catholic High School before spending a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia in 1992-93. At Towson Catholic, he was the MVP of the Baltimore Catholic League tournament in 1992.
Johnson’s older brother Stephen also played Division I basketball for the University of California at Berkeley.
He and his wife, Jennifer, also a 1997 Princeton graduate, have two children, a two-year old son Jalen and an infant daughter Julia, who was born in February.
The Sydney Johnson File
Name: Sydney A. Johnson
Age: 32 (born April 26, 1974)
Hometown: Towson, Md.
College: Four-year starter at Princeton, graduating in 1997 with an A.B. degree in history.
2004-07: Assistant Coach, Georgetown University
Seven professional seasons in Italy and Spain; teams won three league championships
Notable: The only three-time captain in Princeton men’s basketball history ... the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year ... a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection ... the program’s all-time leader in steals (169) ... fifth all-time at Princeton in both three-pointers (162) and assists (280) ... ranks 24th all-time at Princeton with 1,044 points.
Family: Wife Jennifer, son Jalen (2), daughter Julia (two months)