Ed. Note: Gary D. Walters ’67 is the Ford Family Director of Athletics Emeritus at Princeton, and was a leader on the men’s basketball team in the legendary era of Bill Bradley ’65. (The Ford Family Directorship was endowed by Bill Ford ’79 and Lisa Vanderzee Ford ’82.) Walters and teammate Chris Thomforde ’69 appeared together on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 27, 1967, under the title “Princeton Builds a Basketball Dynasty.” Walters recently reminisced about his time at Princeton and Ivy in the interview below.
What colleges recruited you when you played high school basketball in Reading, Pa.?
As a point guard, I was recruited by a number of ACC schools, major Eastern Universities and Princeton. I narrowed my final decision down between two Universities: Princeton and Maryland.
Why did you choose Princeton?
At the time, my HS coach, who ultimately became the legendary Princeton coach, was Pete Carril. Lucky for me, Coach Carril had played for Coach Butch van Breda Kolff at Lafayette and they subsequently became close friends. Coach Carril thought that I would be a good fit at Princeton and encouraged VBK to see me play. VBK came to one of my high school games in Reading and was impressed enough with my play that he invited me to visit Princeton on the day they were playing Penn in what amounted to an Ivy League Championship deciding game. Not only did Princeton beat Penn, but star player Bill Bradley and his teammate Bill Kingston hosted me on my visit. To me, Princeton was a Gothic Garden of Eden, uniquely interspersed with gargoyles looming from the buildings. The cumulative effect of combining Princeton’s academic reputation, basketball excellence and campus beauty convinced me to attend once I was accepted.
In your day, students bickered all the clubs on the street. You must have had bids from a number of clubs. What made you choose Ivy?
I did have bids from a number of clubs, which complicated my decision-making. I ended up choosing Ivy for a number of interrelated reasons. As the starting point guard on the basketball team that made it to the Final Four that season, I was playing on a high-profile team in a high-profile position. Although I was lucky to be in that position, the players were under a lot of pressure to perform and to do so under a spotlight no matter what space we occupied on campus. Also, I have always been a relatively independent person and didn’t want to be stereotyped as just a jock. I concluded that the atmosphere at Ivy was both low key, respectful of others and intellectually stimulating, thus enabling me to interact with a diverse and interesting group of undergrads. Fortunately for me, two of my best friends and teammates, sophomore starters Rob Brown and Ed Hummer, as well as my roommate, Bob Booth, also decided to select Ivy, which was a major coup for the club. Ivy fulfilled my expectations (and those of my son Nick who was in the Class of ’05).
How did a Princeton education help you succeed in life?
Most importantly, Princeton provided me with a “holistic” education. I learned in the classroom; I learned from my classmates, clubmates and teammates; and I also personally experienced the concept of “Education Through Athletics,” a phrase I coined when I became Athletics Director that reflected the important and underappreciated cognitive aspects of being an athlete. I was able to draw on all of the experiences that enabled me to compete in the “so-called” real world. The competition at Princeton is fierce. It forces everyone to raise the level of his or her game, preparing us for the future. Because I’ll always be identified as a Princetonian, I was consciously aware that I could never sully the Princeton brand. I have further learned that compounded effort over time is similar to compounded interest, allowing one to achieve one’s potential.
Did you get right into coaching when you graduated?
The brief answer is yes, but my transition from college is a great example of the importance of mentorship. As I stated before, Coach Carril was my high school coach. Prior to my senior year at Princeton, Coach Carril was appointed as the head coach at Lehigh University. In the spring of my senior year, while I was completing my thesis after our basketball season had ended, Coach Carril called me and offered me the job as his assistant at Lehigh. Ironically, about a month later, Coach VBK left Princeton to become the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach Carril was then hired to succeed him and I was fortunate enough to have Lehigh honor its commitment to me. Pass it forward!
You capped off your career as Director of Athletics at Princeton. What was that experience like?
It was an incredible honor to be selected as Princeton’s AD. However, as Shakespeare said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” The AD has the fiduciary responsibility of representing athletes: past, present and future; the obligation to align and hold accountable the athletic culture to overall University standards; and the need to be the standard-bearer for Education Through Athletics. The AD must communicate with all constituencies on campus while overseeing the operations of 39 varsity sports, numerous club sports and a comprehensive recreation program. Simply put, one must be a servant-leader and work 24/7.
What is it about your tenure that makes you most proud?
We conducted the most competitively successful athletic program in the Ivies without ever compromising our integrity and our commitment to Education Through Athletics.
What advice do you have for today’s undergraduates?
1. Be a life-long learner. Compounded effort over time is a great differentiator.
2. Cognition should be holistic. The left lobe is responsible for linear-logical thinking. The right lobe is responsible for conceptual thinking, emotion, being street smart and comprehending the big picture. Nurture both sides.
3. You are what you hang on the walls of your mind. Be mindful of your prejudices.
4. Keep your head on a swivel and see danger before it happens.
5. You can’t steal second with one foot on first.
6. The only difference between a rut and a coffin are the two ends.
7. Never compromise your integrity. Your reputation is your most valuable asset.
8. Nurture mentoring relationships, become a mentor yourself and pass your good fortune forward.
9. Your teaching is your immortality.