Thursday, July 15, 2010

News and Notes: Thursday Edition

Below, some news and notes for Thursday...

  • The Harvard Crimson writes, "This has been a year to remember for fans of Ivy League basketball. The clock may have already struck midnight nearly fourth months ago for the Cinderella-like Cornell men’s basketball team in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, but the good times keep rolling for the players still in the game. Four Ivy League graduates are currently showcasing their skills at the 2010 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas (and maybe doing some other things, too—but hey, who are we to judge?): Harvard’s Jeremy Lin ’10 and Brian Cusworth ’07; Cornell’s Ryan Wittman ’10; and Penn’s Ibrahim Jaaber ’07... Wittman has been averaging four points a game for the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks this summer. With that in mind, we have a feeling that he won’t be holding an hour-long special on Cornell’s Slope TV at the conclusion of summer league to announce his illustrious future in the NBA."
  • After covering Ryan Wittman's play in the Orlando Summer League with the Boston Celtics, The Cornell Daily Sun recaps Wittman's performance in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Knicks:

Witt Watch: Vegas Edition

Wittman did not play in Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets, per coach's decision. Despite trailing by as much as 17, New York battled back to tie things at 70 with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter before ultimately falling to Denver, 100-90.

Speaking of team uniforms, this week’s sign of the apocalypse: the name on the back of Ryan’s jersey actually read “Whittman” in his Knicks debut (photo courtesy of Jon Jaques, who was in Vegas with Jeff Foote to cheer on their friend and former teammate). Foote was in town for business purposes as well, meeting with his new coaches.

On Monday, Wittman/Whittman shot 1-for-3 with a 3-pointer in just over nine minutes of action, as the Knicks evened their summer league record at 1-1 after taking down the L.A. Lakers, 71-63.

Despite shooting 0-for-2 from beyond the arc, Witt managed four points and an offensive rebound in 3:39 and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the free-throw line as the Knicks fell to the Toronto Raptors, 102-89, on Wednesday. And for the record, the name on the back of his jersey read “Wittman.”

Cornell Tabs Yahn As Assistant Coach, Former Central, WJU standout earns gig with Ivy League power

Learning under former coaches Dave Wojcik and Jay DeFruscio, Ricky Yahn got a good start on being surrounded by bright basketball minds.

Now he gets his chance to see just how much he's learned.

Yahn was recently named as an assistant coach at Cornell, joining the staff put together by new coach Bill Courtney.

''It's very exciting,'' Yahn said. ''Most coaches don't get their chance until their late 20s or early 30s. Here I am at 25 years old and I'm coaching at a Division I school for one of the best college basketball minds around. I am very fortunate.''

Yahn was a standout at Wheeling Central under Wojcik, winning a state championship in his senior season in 2002.

He then stayed home to join DeFruscio's Wheeling Jesuit squad where he was a two-year captain. He led the team to a pair of NCAA Tournaments and a West Virginia Conference championship in 2005.

He played professionally in England and Buffalo, N.Y. before moving to coach at Saint Vincent College and then to being the video coordinator at George Mason.

It was at George Mason where he befriended Jay Larranaga.

''I was at George Mason working in an administrative role, breaking down film and that kind of stuff and I was looking at a couple different jobs in the summer, trying to move up the ladder,'' Yahn said. ''When Jay got hired (at Cornell), I started talking back and forth with him and I was fortunate enough to get an interview.

''Some people knew the work I had done and thought I would be a good fit for the position. Luckily things worked out.''

Courtney and Yahn will have their hands full.

The Big Red advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history, capping off a run that has included three consecutive Ivy League championships.

That success helped former coach Steve Donahue nab the job at Boston College and open the door for Courtney, a Virginia Tech assistant last season.

Courtney is known as a master recruiter as evidenced by his time at George Mason when he helped bring in all the players that led the Colonials to their magical run to the 2006 Final Four.

''This is a guy that has never had a bad day in his life,'' Yahn said. ''I haven't been able to get to know him too well yet, but all I have heard is positive things.

''He is such a positive guy and the kind of guy kids want to play for and someone that I want to learn under.''

Being so young, Yahn feels his biggest strength will be his ability to connect with the the players. Yahn last played collegiately in 2007.

He also wants to take what he's learned under Wojcik and DeFruscio and pass that knowledge along.

''I've always played for guys that have an emphasis on getting easy baskets and we didn't do that by running and gunning, but by playing good defense, moving the ball, and making sure we get good shots,'' Yahn said. ''We don't want to let teams dictate what we do, but we also want don't want to be overly patient. Easy baskets take the pressure off our offense. The best part is that is how Coach Courtney likes to play so I already feel like I fit in.

''I'm the youngest guy on the staff so I understand the frame of mind the players are in. I'm not going to be looked upon as one of the main recruiters, but more of making sure the guys are on the same page.

''This is something I've always wanted to do since playing under Coach Wojcik and seeing the difference he made in our lives, not just on the basketball court, but off if as well. He was so influential and I knew that one day I wanted be able to do the same thing.''

Meet the New Coach: Cornell’s Bill Courtney

What Happened to…Steve Donahue?
After ten years as Cornell’s head coach, Steve Donahue accepted the vacant head coaching position at Boston College. Under Donahue, Cornell enjoyed it’s most successful stretch in school history. After a pair of 20-loss seasons in Donahue’s first two years, the Big Red improved gradually over the next few seasons, and in 2005, recorded the first of six consecutive winning seasons in Ivy League play.

In 2008, Cornell went 22-6, and a perfect 14-0 in conference, capturing the Ivy League title for just the second time in school history. However, as a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Cornell was outmatched against Stanford in what amounted to a 24-point blowout loss.

Although Cornell would not match the previous season’s undefeated conference record, the Big Red still posted an impressive 21-10 (11-3) mark in 2009 and won the Ivy League for a second consecutive season. But in the NCAA Tournament, Cornell was yet again over-matched as a No. 14 seed, this time losing by 19 against Missouri.

With the team’s core of Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, and Jeff Foote back for one last season, Cornell dominated the Ivy League once again en route to a 29-5 (13-1) final record. But this time, the Big Red would not go down so easily in the NCAA Tournament. Cornell advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed after knocking off Temple and Wisconsin in stunning fashion. After eventually falling to No. 1 seeded Kentucky, Donahue leaves Cornell with an all-time record of 146-138 (78-62 Ivy).

Who is…Bill Courtney?
The 39-year-old Bill Courtney has the tough task of following in Donahue’s footsteps at Cornell. Courtney has been a long-time assistant on the Division 1 level, getting his start at Bowling Green in 1996 under current George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga.

Courtney followed Larranaga to George Mason in ’97 and spent eight years with the Patriots, where he was involved in recruiting many of the players from George Mason’s Final Four team in 2006. After stops at Providence, Virginia Commonwealth, and Virginia, Courtney continued his preparation for a Division 1 head coaching position in spending last season under Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech.

What’s It All Mean?
This is a tough situation for Courtney to step into, as he arrives in a widely expected “transition year” for Cornell. Four starters from last year’s team are gone, including the experienced Wittman (17.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Dale (12.8 ppg, 4.7 apg), and Foote (12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg). The only returning starter is junior guard Chris Wroblewski, a complimentary player on last year’s team who averaged 8.9 points per game.

Replacing the production alone of Wittman, Dale, and Foote would be difficult for any program, but Cornell is losing championship experience both on the court and on the sideline, and both Princeton and Harvard are poised to overtake the Big Red in the Ivy League chase.

The three outgoing seniors set the bar very high at Cornell, and that presents a challenge and an opportunity for Courtney. The Big Red are likely to take a step back this season, but Courtney is in position to build a consistent Ivy League contender if he capitalizes on what Steve Donahue built over the past ten years at Cornell.

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