Friday, October 15, 2010

Four-Part Bill Courtney Interview by Brian Delaney of the Ithaca Journal

Below, the complete four-part interview series of Bill Courtney by the Ithaca Journal's Brian Delaney...

Between now and the official start of college basketball season on or around Oct. 15, I'll post some of Bill Courtney's thoughts on the 2010-11 roster he'll be coaching in his first year as head coach. We sat down and talked at length about the upcoming year last week, and pretty much talked about every player on the roster. I've briefly touched on Courtney's new players, four incoming freshmen and junior college transfer Andrew Ferry in a story that ran last week.

Here's a bit more from Courtney on his recent arrivals. Consider this Part I of a series of blog posts going forward:

On 6-5 Canadian forward Manny Sahota: "He's a guy with tremendous potential. A really good athlete. Can play both forward spots, had a really good senior year and followed it up with some all-star games where he played pretty well. He's a guy going forward, in the future, I think can be a really good player. He's got to learn a little bit more about the game, stuff like that."

On 6-3 Dominick Scelfo and 6-2 Jake Matthews: "They're a little different. Dom's more of a true point guard. He can run the team, be a team leader type guy, and Jake's more of a combo guard, good at scoring with some athleticism. He's just a little thin right now; he needs to put on some weight."

In terms of Scelfo and Matthews challenging for playing time: "They're both right there because we don't have enough backcourt depth."

On 6-6 Dwight Tarwater: "Dwight is similar to Manny in he can play both forward spots. He's probably a little more skilled. He can shoot the ball; he's very strong. He's probably the most college ready of the freshmen because of his size. He's got to learn the college game and the intensity and I think he'll be fine."

In the story I linked to above, I used Courtney's quote on Andrew Ferry. Ferry's healing up from a wrist injury suffered recently, but when he gets healthy, the new coaching staff believes he'll be an integral part of the 2010-11 team. I'm looking forward to seeing him in practice come October.

Only two weeks and three days remain until the start of the 2010-11 college basketball season, with 45 days to go until Bill Courtney makes his Cornell coaching debut on Friday, Nov. 12 at Albany. With that said, here's Part II of my developing series building up to the '10-11 season, stemming from an hour-long conversation with Courtney back in late August. If you missed the first part, on the incoming recruiting class, click here.

Two guys who are in similar positions this fall are guard Max Groebe and forward Anthony Gatlin. Although both are listed as seniors on Cornell's roster, each has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Groebe and Gatlin get lumped together here because they both fall into that intriguing "Coaches, media, players and anyone who's watched practice think they should help; now they just have to do it" category.

Groebe is a 6-3 guard, and as pure a shooter as there is in the Ivy League. Last year he saw minimal time behind Lou Dale, Chris Wroblewski, Geoff Reeves, and the coaching staff watched him develop into a great team guy who accepted his role and the special situation he found himself in after transferring from Massachusetts. He never groused about playing time, always appeared involved, hard working, well-liked by teammates, etc. He played in 27 games, averaged 5.8 minutes, shot 56 percent from the three-point line (23 for 41) and generally did a good job of taking care of the ball when he played (3 turnovers in 156 minutes). There were two areas of concern: ball-handling and his ability to defend quick two-guards. (That's partially the reason I think Kevin App's old idea of going with Wroblewski/Ferry/Groebe, with Groebe at the small forward, could be successful. But I digress...)

Here's Courtney's take on Groebe:
"Max played a little bit last year and had a ridiculous three-point shooting percentage. That's a strength. We're going to count on him to do that. There's a couple things I told him to go work on this summer, getting ready to have a bigger role on the team. I think he's done that. We'll see that in the upcoming weeks here of that's the case, because I'd like him to be more than a standstill shooter, which is what he was last yaer with some terrific players that garnered so much attention that he'd stand there and shoot a wide open shot. Now he's going to have to come off screens and down screens and pin downs and all kinds of things. We'll use those things to get open shots, get the same shots, and again he's going to have to learn to shoot at a different speed because he's not going to be standing there wide open. Hopefully he's worked to do all those things, and we're going to continue to help him do that and improve. If he does that I think he can have a terrific year."

Gatlin's even more of an unknown because he spent last year sitting out after transferring from Centenary. Gatlin played for two seasons at Centenary, before the school announced it was switching to Division III. He's a skinny, wiry 6-8 who gained 25 pounds in the offseason and now weighs about 205. You can read up on his playing days at Centenary right here. On a team that's a little smallish, Gatlin's unique skill set will needed particularly when that Ivy League schedule comes around.

Courtney said: "Gatlin's a guy that, with his athleticism, who is very different than a lot of Ivy League players. He's a kid that loves basketball, so he's constantly in the gym working on his game. He's high energy. That's what we'll need from him most. We'll need him to be super energetic guy, almost like a Dennis Rodman as far as rebounding and defense, and hopefully a little bit better of an offensive player (laughs). But he's a guy that we can hope has that kind of energy. We expect both (Groebe and Gatlin) to have big roles this year."


On another note, Bill Courtney's first recruiting class is now up to three players, after Albany-area guard Galal Cancer orally committed last week. The Albany Times-Union had a story in today's paper.

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
October 1, 2010

Time for an October basketball post, in between football writings.

There were a number of quality reasons for Bill Courtney to pursue the Cornell job once Steve Donahue left for Boston College. One that might not have come up at the time of his hiring, but which was nonetheless important, was this: despite the program losing probably the best senior class in Cornell's history, Courtney would take over with a proven, big-time player (for the Ivy League) at the college game's most important position: point guard.

The fact that Chris Wroblewski has two years left, not one, makes it a near-perfect situation for Courtney. He has an orchestrator, a leader, a proven winner, a great shooter, and one of, if not the most, poised guards in the league to build around. Of course, Wroblewski's role will need to change considerably.

"Even the guys like Chris that played and started last year, he has a new role," Courtney said. "We're expecting Chris now to go from role player, the fourth leading scorer on the team, to the main guy or one of the main guys. We've had several conversations already; he has to be a leader for this team. Mostly because of the position he plays, but his personality lends itself to being vocal and one of the leaders on this team."

In short, Wroblewski will need to prove he can score consistently. Off the dribble. Away from the ball. He'll need to be a guy who can score in tight spots when the opponent knows Cornell wants him to score in a tight spot. (He won't be the only guy capable; but right now, it appears safe to assume that he'll be the first option.)

"He's going to have to pick it up a lot," Courtney said. "His stats are going to have to improve: scoring, assists, every area. And I think he understands that. Again, he's in a whole different role right now. He's had the progressions though. He was Ivy League rookie of the year, to starter on a Sweet 16 team, and now it's time for him to take that next step."

Courtney obviously believes Wroblewski is capable of making that jump - which, put specifically, is an MVP, first-team all-league caliber player. Even if he didn't, he wouldn't say otherwise. But the truth is, Courtney does believe it. When asked why he was confident Wroblewski could, he pointed to a few specific areas: Wroblewski's "great" decision-making, off-ball movement in scramble situations, experience against big-time guards, and the way he frees himself up off screens.

"That lends me to believe that with more opportunity, he's going to have bigger numbers," Courtney said. "Because he's a guy who's been there. He's had more experience than the other guys, he's been in the wars. It'll be easier for him to improve himself than it will be for other guys who haven't played before."

Some years, with some teams, this question isn't quite as loaded as it is for Cornell in 2010-11. Who does Cornell need to take a big step forward this upcoming season? Once Bill Courtney got rolling, it was understandably tough for him to stop: more or less, who doesn't Cornell need?

The starting point for Courtney was an easy choice: sophomore Errick Peck. The 6-foot-6 forward out of basketball-rich Indianapolis will have as many, if not more, eyes monitoring his development as any other player on the 17-man roster. Steve Donahue called Peck as talented a recruit as he brought into Cornell during his 10-year stint; Peck clearly has an excitable, difficult-to-match-up-with skill set. He can play on the perimeter, score off the bounce, post up and run the floor. He elevates well and is physically strong enough to hold his own at the small forward position, and at the power forward position (in the Ivies, at least).

"You've got to look at guys who were freshmen last year, Errick Peck in particular, who has to take another jump," Courtney said. "He's a guy who got spot playing time last year, and he's going to have to mature and become a guy that we can count on. Consistency will be the biggest thing for him."

Peck doesn't need to be Cornell's best player, night in and night out. But he needs to be one of Cornell's top five players on a consistent basis. He showed a lot of growth in the second semester portion of last season, when he defended better, positioned himself better, played with more confidence and became more comfortable with what was being asked of him. For Peck, Courtney said, maturing mentally is more important than the physical aspect.

"More than anything, more than the physical part, he has to be mentally ready," Courtney said. "That question is still to be answered. I don't know the answer to that. We probably won't know the answer to that until probably November or December. Obviously he has a tremendous amount of potential, and we're hoping and counting on him fulfilling that potential."

Courtney also said 6-2 sophomore point guard Miles Asafo-Adjei needs to earn a larger role.

"(He) has to make a tremendous jump in his game," Courtney said. "But if he does, he can really help us. He's a super athlete, he's one of the quickest guys in our league, if not the quickest, and so if he can improve his game, he can really be a guy that helps us."

Asafo-Adjei's area of need is shooting from the perimeter. It's a constant work in progress for him, but something he's embraced. Donahue loved A-A's work ethic, and how defensively he would make life chaotic for Lou Dale and Chris Wroblewski in practice. If nothing else, A-A can be a change-up guy to Wroblewski who comes in and pressures the ball heavily, runs the offense and takes care of the ball. In transition, he's an absolute blur.

Senior Adam Wire was the third name Courtney went to. Classmate Mark Coury was the fourth (Hopefully they can go from role players to main guys," Courtney said), and senior Aaron Osgood (6-9) and sophomore Josh Figini (6-9) also were mentioned.

With Wire, I think Cornell saw on three occasions last year what he gives you with extended minutes: rebounding, defense, steals and the ability to catch and finish underneath. He had 13 rebounds in 30 minutes in the Vermont win, when Alex Tyler was out with an injury, Coury got in early foul trouble and Donahue had yet to see the light with Jon Jaques; he had 9 rebounds in 27 minutes at La Salle, and he had 7 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes against UMass. He was never a threat to create his own offense, because the 2009-10 team never needed him to do that. I'm not convinced the 2010-11 version will need him to do it, either. But I certainly think Wire will be around the top of the Ivy League this year - not necessarily in rebounds per game - but in rebounds per minutes played per game.

Here was Courtney's take on Osgood: "To me, it seems he has all the ability to be a front-line guy. We'll just have to see if that continues over to the game, because it's different in practice than in games. But he has a chance. He has tremendous potential. He could be the Jon Jaques of this year, a guy that didn't play but who ended up having a great role in his senior season. We're really hoping that he develops into a front line guy for us."

Courtney on Figini: "He's athletic as heck and a tremendous defender already. We have to get him a little better offensively. He's a great athlete. He's strong enough now to defend and rebound, and he's a guy who can definitely have a role on this team."

Who can't? That seems to be the prevailing question right now. How deep can Cornell be this season?

"Deep," Courtney said. "(We're) going to have to be. We have a lot of guys who are so similar. I think we won't be afraid to throw guys in the game, and hopefully our team will play to exhaustion, the guys that are in there, because their teammates have their back."

So that's the last post before the start of the season - first practice is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night. Lots of unknowns, but lots of great story lines to follow over the next few months. Let the fun begin.


Anonymous said...

Brian Delaney just tweeted a Brown article that says Albrecht won't be eligible until 2011-12.

Anonymous said...

Albrecht is a chucker, much in the mold of Alex Zampier. He doesn't impress me at all. Kind of glad he didn't end up coming here.

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

They don't need him anymore.

They filled his gap with Ferry.

They've also got all their guards returning plus added Cancer, Cherry and Miller.

He's got some talent, but really not a loss for Cornell at this point.

Anonymous said...

How many years of eligibility does Albrecht have left? 2?

The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

Two and possibly a third upon application.