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Princeton freshman Caden Pierce just latest star in family of athletes

Steve Serbian

college basketball

March 24, 2023 | 4:08 a.m

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – He’s grown to be Ivy League Freshman of the Year, and those who best remember when and how a boy’s basketball obsession began will be honored at the KFC Yum! Friday night centers cheer Caden Pierce and Princeton against Creighton, with an unlikely South Regional berth in the Elite Eight at stake.

“Am I dreaming that, by the way?” Greg Pierce asks over the phone. “Is Princeton really in the Sweet 16?”

He is the father who played at Northwestern Tight End. His wife Stephanie is the 5-foot-11 mom who played volleyball in the Northwest. Their 24-year-old son Justin plays basketball abroad in Montenegro. Their 22-year-old son, Alec, was a rookie wide receiver for the NFL Colts last season.

Their 18-year-old son Caden is now a 6-6 forward averaging 30.2 minutes, 8.3 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds for Princeton.

“We would take him to all his brothers’ games,” Greg told the Post. “At the age of 4 he was taking that ball during breaks at halftime and shooting 3-pointers and making it, and slowly working his way back as far as he could physically throw a ball and making a lot of those shots on the breaks at half time. He had that hand-eye coordination from a very young age. The crowd encouraged him to just do these shots like a 4, 5, 6 year old.”

Stephanie: “We used to go to Justin and Alec’s basketball games and he always had a ball with him and every time there was a time out or anything on the floor he would go out and shoot. He was tiny, tiny, tiny. He’s the smallest I’ve seen capable of firing at a 10ft hoop. He could kind of use his body and could maneuver and throw the ball up and make a 10-foot basket. And the umpires would love to stop and watch him and pat his head. He was really obsessed with it.”

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Caden Pierce scores a dunk in Princeton’s 78-63 win over Missouri in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Getty Images

Caden’s favorite player growing up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois was Derrick Rose. “We played in the front drive the whole time,” Caden recalled. “Usually my father was the fourth player. Sometimes we switched teams, but I was the weakest at that point.”

He never stopped playing. “We played a lot of two-on-twos during COVID, during quarantine with some of our neighbors, some of our friends. We’re not supposed to do that during quarantine, but we got called by the police a couple of times for violating quarantine rules,” Caden said with a smile, “but we said we were playing with another brother.”

Caden Pierce celebrates after Princeton’s win over Missouri.
Getty Images

Greg and Stephanie encouraged their boys to be active.

“Athletics was such a big part of my family growing up,” Caden said. “Both of my parents played in college, both of my brothers played in college and beyond. Seeing how hard they all worked just inspired me and made me who I am today.”

Justin was with William & Mary for three years before moving to North Carolina. “He went to North Carolina thinking he was going to make the tournament, but it ended up being the COVID year,” Alec told the Post over the phone.

So forgive Justin for living vicariously through his little brother. Who somehow got 16 rebounds in the second round in Sacramento against Missouri.

“He’s super nice and he’s super sweet and his teachers always complimented him for just being a very nice person in class and very smart,” Stephanie said. “But then he looks pretty tough out there, he looks pretty fierce, and he’s going up and he’s attacking and coming down with these rebounds and fights. He’s a different kid when he’s playing outside than in real life.”

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Caden Pierce’s brother Alec is a wide receiver for the Colts.
USA TODAY sports

Caden guided Glenbard West to the Class 4A IHSA State Championship a year ago. He was a two-time All-State selection.

“I think I kind of just embody toughness,” Caden said. “I think rudeness doing dirty work. And then selflessness, I think I just do whatever the team asks me to do, whether it’s some games where some scoring chances are given up and the offensive glass is shattered, or some other games where shots are knocked down.

He’s proud to play on a Princeton fraternity team that fears no one.

Alec: “Me and my brothers, we used to watch the tournament growing up and it was something we always enjoyed watching and something you always dreamed of being in. My older brother never got the chance to be there – it’s really cool to see my youngest brother living that dream.”

Greg: “Cade was always like the little guy who did all these things for the older boys. We are all there for him. It’s like its time.”

Stephanie: “The fact that the two big brothers have to sit there and cheer on their little brother when his whole life has been spent watching them do everything is really, really special to me.”

“It’s a dream come true,” said Caden. “I think I can speak for the whole team, but that’s why I came into basketball, just playing in March Madness in general, watching it on TV, every year at the end of the tournament ‘One Shining Moment “Seeing that is true inspiration for me and I believe the whole team.”

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