Below, some news and notes around the Ivy League.
The Daily Pennsylvanian updates its readers on the summer workouts of the Penn Quakers.
Mark Gilbride, an assistant coach at Yale was named the new head coach at Clarkson University.
After bumping into Kathy Orton of The Washington Post at basketball games all winter as she did the legwork for her upcoming book on men's basketball in the Ivy League, The Sun asked her to share some of her insights from the "14-game tournament" that is a basketball season in the Ancient Eight. Today, she shares insights and reflects on this past season - including why she thought Cornell would win the league championship. Tomorrow, Orton predicts the future of the conference and college basketball in general
The Sun: What is it about Ivy League men's basketball that is so unique you were inspired to write a whole book about it?
Kathy Orton: Well, I think it's so different than the rest of Division I basketball. I know there are some very obvious things that make it different [like] not having a postseason, conference tournament, not having scholarships - if you ask coaches, that's one of the biggest things that makes it different from the rest of Division I basketball. But I think there are things that people don't really consider, and that's the Friday-Saturday scheduling … how the student-athletes have to really balance their education and their academics along with their athletics and sort of what that all entails, especially being at a very competitive school like an Ivy League school as well as participating in Division I basketball.
The Sun: Which Ivy League team did you have the most fun watching? Which player stood out after the season was over?
Kathy Orton: That's a tough question, because the one thing I didn't really fully appreciate until I went through the season was how important every single game was. … They like to use that phrase, "14-game tournament" and it really is a six-week, 14-game tournament where every game feels like it's the most important game, and there were so many really competitive, exciting games. I can think of that Cornell-Harvard game, there was the Cornell-Princeton game, those are two that just immediately come to mind. As far as players, I can think of Adam Gore at Syracuse having that great game as a freshman in the Dome, I thought that was impressive. I can think of Scottie Greenman hitting that amazing shot in the overtime, the two he made in the overtimes against Cornell at Cornell. … I know [Penn's Ibrahim] Jaaber was the Ivy League Player of the Year and certainly I saw countless great performances by Ibby, but I think that would be sort of a disservice to the other kids because I saw a lot of great performances from a lot of different kids throughout the season, and it's like asking someone to pick their favorite child, you know? Because they each had something really special, I thought, in all of them.
The Sun: You first saw Cornell play in its second game of the season, a 67-62 loss against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. What was your first impression of Cornell and how did that change throughout the season?
Kathy Orton: I thought, "these guys are fabulous, they're going to win the league," after I saw them the first time. … I was really impressed with how well they had played. That's why I think Cornell really surprised me this year, in that I was never quite sure which Cornell team would show up. So many times they were so phenomenally talented and great, and then sometimes they just looked like they weren't the same guys wearing the jerseys. And I talked to them about this … and I don't know if they were ever able to put a finger on why that would happen. But it was interesting to watch that sort of phenomenon, where it was almost like there were two different Cornell teams. And certainly after [sophomore] Khaliq [Gant's] injury, the way they responded at Columbia was just an amazing performance. I'll always remember that game and the emotion that went into that game because that was really pretty spectacular, the way they were able to win that game because of all that was going on around them.
The Sun: What did you expect coming into the 2005-06 season, and what surprised you?
Kathy Orton: I came into the book trying not to have any preconceived ideas about what Ivy League basketball - obviously, I had covered the league for The Washington Post for several years and knew a little bit about it. But, I wanted to not do a lot of research ahead of time. I wanted to talk to people and get their impressions. Obviously, Cornell's season was such an odd season. … I would talk to the players during the season and they would just tell me how it was just unlike any other season they had been through and then to have the injury to Khaliq put that in a whole other category. … I think there were four schools that I thought had very interesting seasons. Cornell, obviously, for it's up and down season. Penn because it won the league title - I think any time a team goes through a whole season and comes so close to perfection, I think that's interesting. And certainly being the team that everyone was trying to beat, I think that's hard when you're put into a position of having to win, everyone expects you to win and then winning. Princeton, obviously, for its historical success in the league and then sort of having such a miserable preseason and then finishing second in the league. And then sort of the opposite case, Harvard, which was picked to finish second in the league, had a fairly good non-conference season and then just kind of fell apart in the Ivy League season. So those four schools that have intrigued me the most and probably will be the biggest focus of the book.
The Sun: How would you say Glen Miller, the former head coach at Brown, will do taking over the reins at Penn after Fran Dunphy's departure?
Kathy Orton: I think he's an excellent coach; I think Penn's getting a really good coach. It's going to be a tough act to follow Fran Dunphy, who was so well-liked and well-regarded in the community as well as at the school. I always thought whenever I'd go see him, it was like seeing the mayor of Philadelphia because he knew everyone. I think it's going to be really hard on Glen Miller to follow his act at Penn. … But he is a very good coach and I think the players will appreciate getting someone who's very passionate about basketball and very knowledgeable of the game. It'll be interesting to see what it's like for Glen Miller to go back to Brown and play his former team. I think that's going to be hard - when you recruit kids to a school and tell them you're going to be there and then you leave for another school in the conference, I think that's probably going to be very hard on him and I don't envy him having to go through that.
The Sun: You've covered the WNBA and the Ivy League. How would you defend those two leagues to people that say they're not as relevant as other leagues at their level?
Kathy Orton: I've covered so many things, everything from Super Bowl teams … I've covered minor league baseball, I've covered high school sports, and I'll never forget this, an eight-year-old girls' softball team that had its own press kit. It was in California; it was a different world out there. I guess my point is that I've covered every level, from the very small sports to the very big sports and I think there's an appeal to someone in all of them. Certainly more people are going to watch the Super Bowl than are going to watch a Washington Mystics game or an eight-year-olds softball team. But at the same time, I think there's something in there for everyone in the sense that they're all people playing these sports and these people all have stories to tell … and sometimes the more interesting stories are the ones that come from the smaller sports or the less-recognized sports, because by the time you get to the Super Bowl there isn't anything you don't know about Ray Lewis [of the Baltimore Ravens], pretty much. A lot of times I find that, for example, covering the Ivy League … there's not usually a lot of people there to cover these kids and these coaches and a lot of their stories don't get told - which I think is unfortunate, because I think there's much more to them than the stereotype that people have of Ivy League athletes or as the other example, WNBA players.
The Sun: Do you think an Ivy League school will ever be able to make a run in the NCAA tournament like George Mason?
Kathy Orton: I think that's become fairly commonplace now to see "mid-major" programs upsetting better-known or higher-regarded teams in the first round. … It's the team like a George Mason going all the way to the Final Four, which is rare but I think it could definitely happen [again]. Do I think it could happen in the Ivy League? I would doubt it. I think if you look, it's becoming harder and harder for Ivy League schools to get the kind of athletes that these schools are getting. George Mason had a lot of very talented players that developed and grew during their four years, and they stayed together for most of the time that they were able to get to the Final Four. If you looked at this year's Ivy League, there were very few seniors. I think it's very hard to stick it out all four years in the Ivy Legaue, play basketball and do well academically. And I think you would have to have a group of kids who could stay around for four years and develop their game over those four years and I just don't see that happening. I think it's too hard for kids to stick out - I think it's amazing that kids stick out all four years playing basketball at an Ivy League school given all the other demands on them, and I think you're going to continue to see fewer seniors. I think this year there were hardly any seniors in the Ivy League, and I think that's going to be a trend in the future.
The Sun: Do you think the Ivy League will ever award athletic scholarships in an attempt to compete on the national sports scene?
Orton: Definitely I know that a lot of people would like to see them award scholarships. It would make recruiting a lot easier for the coaches, that's for sure. Will they award scholarships? I would really doubt it, I don't think the Ivy League presidents would ever go for that. I think there's a lot of people in the Ivy League who question whether sports are an important part of an Ivy League education, and I think that will be a battle that will be constantly fought, so I don't think they will ever get to the point where scholarships will be possible. A lot of people made this argument to me as I was writing the book - why should an athlete take the spot of a kid who is academically maybe more qualified to be there? I would argue that academics are only part of your education, that there's a lot more to it than book smarts. But there [have] certainly been a lot smarter people who've put out books [and] arguments than I have as to why this is important. But I don't know, as far as where the Ivy League is headed, I think it's sort of at a crossroads right now as far as its mission with athletics.
The Sun: What do you think of a postseason tournament for the Ivy League?
Orton: Well, I know most people … will be against what I think on this, but I like it the way it is. Now, the players I've talked to and most of the coaches I've talked to want a postseason tournament, and in fact I've been in contact with someone who just wrote his dissertation on whether or not the Ivy League should have a tournament. He interviewed all of the coaches and players in the league this year, and an overwhelming majority, the head coaches want a tournament. Do I think one will happen? No, I don't think the Ivy League presidents will ever go for it. The reason I would hate to see it go - and it's purely for selfish reasons - [is] because I think the way the league is now is so great. … Every game is so important and I'd hate to see it lose it. That atmosphere the games have now - there's just no game where you feel like, "Eh, you know, it's just one game." It's all very intense and the Friday-Saturday turnaround is so hard, and I think if you felt like you could falter it would lose some of its luster. … I certainly know that these guys do want to play more games. They're hampered by the fact that the league limits how many games they get to play in a season, and I think that's unfortunate, because they do most of them love playing so much they want to play as much as possible. For a lot of them, one of the biggest things would be playing on television, which surprised me. Andy Pogach, who did the survey for his thesis [at North Carolina], found that like 80 percent of the kids, one of the reasons they wanted to play a conference tournament was that they could get on a national TV, like ESPN, and to me that's like, no big deal to be on TV, but I guess for them that's a really big deal for their friends and family to be able to see them on TV. So in that case maybe perhaps there's something to be said for [a postseason tournament], but for me I kind of like it the way it is and I hope that they don't change.
The Sun: What are your predictions for next season?
Orton: Well, it'll be interesting now with Penn getting a new coach, with Fran Dunphy leaving and Glen Miller moving from Brown to Penn. That's going to be really interesting, because you'd think that Penn would be favored to win the league again next year considering they did lose key seniors off that team but pretty much the core of that team is back, [and] Princeton finishing so very strong and losing just Scottie Greenman. … Which is no surprise, Penn and Princeton being near the top of the Ivy League is really going out on a limb by me. But as far as the other teams, it's going to be interesting to see in some respects it's hard to know who's going to be on the roster come October because of the things I mentioned earlier where people tend to just stop playing basketball in the Ivy League. Other Division I schools always talk about how they lose players to the NBA, but in the Ivy League they're losing players too, just not to the NBA - a lot of it is because of the academics. Not that they can't handle the academics, but sometimes they choose that's where their future is, so people decide rather than playing basketball it's more important for me to continue to pursue my academics rather than my athletics. I certianly think [Cornell head] coach [Steve] Donahue always has such a strong team, he's really built that program up to be such a strong team that Cornell would definitely be in the mix. Yale was a very young team but showed a lot of potential, I think they'll definitely be in the mix for a contender. Harvard lost almost its entire team, I would be surprised if they did much next year. Dartmouth had a very young team and didn't lose a lot of seniors, so they could be a strong team next year. Brown came on really strong towards the end there … it'll all depend on who they hire. And Columbia has got a lot of good talent there as well so it'll be interesting to see next year. It could be another interesting year for the Ivy League.
The Sun: In the middle of the 2005-06 basketball season, you took time off to have open heart surgery. How did you balance that with the work you were doing for your book?
Orton: This was something I had known about going into the season that I had this heart condition for a couple years now - actually, all my life, but it became an issue a couple years ago. And I had discovered in August before the season that I would need to have surgery sooner rather than later, and I scheduled the surgery for the two weeks in January when there aren't a lot of games because of the Harvard and Princeton exam breaks - which is another unique thing about the Ivy League, that everybody gets put on hold while these schools have their exams. … I had surgery on January 10, so I missed like the Cornell-Columbia trip down to Penn-Princeton and then missed the first Cornell-Columbia game, so I did miss a few games. But I was fortunate that the players and coaches were so incredibly generous and were so willing to talk to me about those games that I missed, so I didn't feel as though I missed a whole lot even though I wish I could have been there.
The Sun: You covered Maggie Dixon, head coach of the Army women's basketball team, early in the season and then she tragically died in March from a condition similar to yours. How did you take that news?
Orton: Well it was quite a shock because I had written about her [and] had spoken to her on the phone. Obviously, I don't think she had any idea when I was talking to her that she had this condition. And yes, it is almost identical to the condition that I have, so it did cause me to pause for a minute, because based on what I read from the autopsy report she had an enlarged heart and a valve problem and an arrhythmia, and I have all of that. My valve problem has been corrected, it was corrected by the open-heart surgery and also I have a defibrillator, which is similar to a pace-maker. So if she would have had that … I'm not sure but there might have been something, a better outcome for her. But having dealt with this, it is one of those things where you don't ever feel sick. Even right up to my surgery I never felt any symptoms. Really I was asymptomatic, and I'm sure she if she felt anything it was tired, but you don't think of tired as a symptom. So it's one of those tragic, unfortunate things but I'm not sure that there's anything she could have done differently that anyone could have know she had this. … I just feel awful for her family and for her players, the players up there just really, really thought the world of her, so it's such a tragedy for someone that talented and warm and loving to have died so suddenly.
The Sun: You have also covered women's college basketball and reported on the women's NCAA tournament this year. How does the women's game compare to the men's?
Orton: I don't know that it will ever get the same kind of crowds and the same kind of TV ratings and I don't that's something it should shoot for. I think it's a different entity and I think one of the problems with women's basketball is it either tries to be too much like the men or it tries to be completely separate from the men, and I think it should try to strike a middle balance. It is the same game, but I think it attracts a different interest and a different crowd - women's crowds tend to be more family oriented and older and men's crowds can be much more younger and male-oriented. So I think you just have to appreciate what you have and not be trying to be something you're not.
The Sun: Did you think it was a big deal when Tennesse's Candice Parker dunked against Army in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament?
Orton: So much was made about that, and I think any time you turned on ESPN there for a while it was on a constant loop and you saw it every five seconds. You know, it's great she can dunk, it's great to see that there are women who have that athletic ability, but I don't think it's all of a sudden going to make people come to the game just because a women dunks. You either like women's basketball for what it is or you don't, but you're not all of a sudden going to become a women's basketball fan because one woman at one school dunked. I think you have to appreciate the game for what it is. And I think it's great she dunked and it's exciting - and I feel bad for the poor Army girl who had to be in the shot every other second getting dunked on. It's nice but I don't think it's revolutionized the game; she certainly isn't the first to dunk and she won't be the last.
Cody Toppert got married on a recent Saturday. He was back under Russ Pennell's watch at the Arizona Premier Academy facility in Gilbert that Monday.
You don't go on a honeymoon when you're trying to make a living at a passion that got in your blood as a tyke.
Toppert, eight years removed from being the New Mexico high school Player of the Year, is among a throng of college graduates and former NBA players working out daily under the new Grand Canyon University men's coach who used to run the club program for grade-school and high school players here.
Since mid-May, nearly every mid-afternoon, players coming through the Premier gym have included Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie, Stanford forward Lawrence Hill, Brigham Young guard Lee Cummard, former Indiana Pacers center David Harrison, and former NBA star Dale Ellis' son, Chris.
The NBA draft is Thursday. But not everybody running intense drills under Pennell will be watching the draft board. The two-round draft is only a small fraction of pro-basketball opportunities.
There are the NBA Development League, overseas, the Continental Basketball Association.
The hopeful players pay a fee to get the instruction and work inside Premier, where the evaporative coolers make it hot and sweaty.
"We're trying to help their skill levels improve," Pennell said. " . . . These guys are trying to stay in shape, get ready for tryouts and summer leagues. We're just trying to help them get better."
Pennell's resume improved drastically by taking the University of Arizona to the NCAA's Sweet 16 last season on an interim basis.
A year before that, Pennell was taking high school kids to AAU tournaments in Las Vegas and Southern California.
Ellis, a 6-foot-9, 267-pound power forward, left Georgia to spend the summer working on his game to get beyond the D-League.
"It's a good atmosphere to work in," said Ellis, who played with New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul in college at Wake Forest. "Get that good work in and not get any injuries.
"It's a nice learning environment."
Harrison, 7 feet, signed last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He knows his career is day to day. He can't afford to spend the off-season sitting around.
Toppert, a 6-4 lefty guard, can shoot the lights out. When he and his younger brother Chad, a 6-7 guard who played at New Mexico, get together on the same team for three-on-three games, the other teams don't stand a chance. Even a honeymoon takes a back seat to hoops dreams for Cody Toppert."I got married - that was fun, had a blast," he said. "But I've got to get back in here to make sure I stay in shape."
In recruiting, Cornell faces challenges in finding student-athletes that can not only play at the highest levels of collegiate basketball, but are also accomplished academically. Of course, these prospects also need to pass up the opportunity to play on athletic scholarship elsewhere since Ivy League schools do not offer them
One such Cornell player who passed up Division I scholarships to come to Cornell Ryan Wittman. Last year, U.S. News & World Report tabbed Wittman as among the half dozen best student-athletes in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Wittman's list of individual honors to-date is impressive:
• Two-time NABC All-District selection (2007-08 & 2008-09)
• Two-time unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection (2007-08 & 2008-09)
• Second-team All-Ivy selection (2006-07)
• 2006-07 Ivy League Rookie of the Year
• Two-time Ivy League Player of the Week
• Six-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week
• CollegeInsider.com Mid Major All American (2007-2008 & 2008-2009)
• CollegeInsider.com Ivy League MVP (2008-2009)
• CollegeHoopsNet.com Mid Major All American (2007-2008 & 2008-2009)
• CollegeHoopsNet.com Mid Major All Freshman Team (2006-2007)
The ESPN Rise article explains that Cornell is willing to recruit anywhere to find student-athlete talent such as Wittman.
"Most kids we recruit turned down athletic scholarships [elsewhere] to come here," says [Cornell coach, Steve] Donahue, whose Ivy League-champion Big Red squad is off to its second straight NCAA tournament. "Where we're different is that all eight [Ivy League schools] can recruit anywhere in the country -- that's where we can separate ourselves from a lot of other mid-majors who can only recruit two or three hours from their campus.
Indeed, 14 states are represented on Cornell's 2008-09 roster, and three players hail from Canada. Clearly, the Ivy League brand name has enabled Cornell (ranked 14th in U.S. News' national university rankings) to scour the entire continent looking for basketball talent. The tricky part is persuading Division I-level players to forgo an opportunity to play on scholarship.
"There are negatives, yeah -- it costs $50,000 to go here, your SAT scores gotta be off the charts," Donahue says. "But if you find the kids that can do that, you really have a chance to be successful."
Does the near future hold an NBA talent from the Ivy League? Chances look faint, but Ryan Wittman may be the league's best NBA prospect.
Wittman plays for Cornell, the back-to-back Ivy League champions from 2007-08 and 2008-09. The 6'6" guard certainly has the basketball pedigree. His father, Randy Wittman, played and coached in the NBA after winning a national championship and Big Ten player of the year at Indiana University.
The younger Wittman averages 16.5 points. He led the league in scoring this past season with 18.5 a contest. He's known as a sharpshooter hitting a career 43 percent of his shots from three. Wittman also doubled his assists from 41 the previous season to 82 this past season.
Perhaps his most important NBA resume builder are his performances against teams from major conferences. He averaged just over 27 points against Syracuse, Indiana, and Minnesota this past season, scoring 33 against Syracuse (albeit an ideal opponent for a deep threat like Wittman).
Wittman will play his senior season at Cornell in 2009-2010. It might be a stretch to say that Wittman will become the first Ivy League player drafted since Jerome Allen, but certainly most will say he can find a home in the NBA.
Siena finally got a high-profile team to at least play in a one-way, guarantee game next season. It took a former Siena coach in Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt to make it happen. Siena coach Fran McCaffery said the Saints will play at Georgia Tech next season. Siena, which should be the MAAC favorite and was No. 20 in my latest top 25 rankings, played at Kansas and at Pitt last season. Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, still looking for a Dec. 16 home game, said he would consider playing the Saints in a guarantee game as well. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 12 in my top 25...
Some events have yet to be finalized, but for a working list of the early season tournament fields for the 2009-10 season, check here.
Two months ago Steve Donahue, the Cornell basketball coach, launched a Twitter account. I joked that maybe a Glen Miller account would look something like our joke issue Buzz post. Well turns out I’m wrong.
Although technically Miller’s name doesn’t appear anywhere, a Penn Basketball twitter account has been launched. Again, it doesn’t say it’s from Miller, but I don’t know how it could be from anyone else. There are 40 tweets from the last month, which isn’t a bad amount. However, it remains to be seen if Miller will post that often during the actual season. But regardless, it will be quite interesting to see if this account has some degree of the transparency that I know the alums want from the athletic program’s premier team.
One such memorable court storm occurred on January 16, 1965. In front of 9,000 fans in Cornell's Barton Hall, the Big Red faced the Princeton Tigers and its star, Bill Bradley.
With under a minute left, nationally ranked Princeton led 69-68. But on the last possession for Cornell, Blaine Aston received a pass near the foul line. Aston hit the 17 foot jumper with 3 seconds remaining for a shocking 70-69 Cornell win.
Cornell finished the season 19-5.
Below, some photos from the Ithaca Journal. Special thanks to former All-Ivy Leaguer, Garry Munson, '66 for getting us the photos.
F the Gazelle Group. They’re back again this season with another faux-tournament in the form of the Legends Classic. Remember our piece shredding them on this last year? If you don’t, here’s a refresher. The Gazelle Group got upset when little Gardner-Webb upset Kentucky in Rupp two years ago during a preliminary round game, meaning that the legions of UK fans they expected to buy tickets the next week weren’t showing. So what’d they do the next year – they fixed the tournament! Yep, all four of the ‘host’ teams get automatic entry to the Championship Rounds (final four teams) despite what happens in the prelims. Total asinine garbage. This year’s four faux-champs? Michigan St., Rutgers, Florida and UMass. MSU-Florida could be interesting, and definitely keep an eye on summer hotshot Mike Rosario from Joisey (playing in AC).FOOTNOTE: Before transferring to Cornell, Mark Coury played 22 minutes for Kentucky in the loss to Gardner Webb.