Below, the Ithaca Journal's Brian Delaney provides updates on the Big Red headed into tonight's clash with Delaware in Newman Arena.
His role going forward is uncertain with the impending return of point guard Chris Wroblewski, but sophomore Johnathan Gray made his own point last weekend: judge him by labels at your own risk.
A year ago, Gray was a student manager for the Cornell men's basketball team who was promoted to the roster in the second semester once guard Alex Hill opted to transfer.
On Friday, he was a surprisingly deciding factor in the Big Red's season-opening win at Albany. He scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers, over 19 minutes, and was one of Cornell's most composed players.
"He showed no nerves, whereas almost everyone else did," coach Bill Courtney said. "He was calm and he did what he does in practice. There was nothing that he did that wasn't something he hasn't done in practice. He makes those shots in practice. He has a no-fear attitude."
Although the Ivy League doesn't give athletic scholarships, the term walk-on can still apply to a player added to the roster who wasn't recruited by the coaching staff.
Gray was accepted to Cornell on his own academic merits out of the Tampa, Fla., area. A 6-foot-3 guard with an eye for the medical field, he's balancing an academic regimen that includes biology, physics, microbiology and nutrition courses. It's common for his head to be buried in a book on the team bus.
But in the offseason, at the behest of Courtney, he took basketball seriously. He added about seven pounds of muscle and even grew a little taller. He played in a competitive summer league against Division I caliber players, and, after practicing last year against the likes of Louis Dale, felt comfortable doing so.
"I understand where I came from," Gray said. "At the same time, I know where I want to be. A walk-on -- I know it makes people think that you're not as good as the other guys on the team, but in a sense I know how good I can be. So I'm trying to work hard every single day, and regardless of what people think about it ... I don't think about it too much."
Cornell (1-1) plays its first home game at 7 p.m. Wednesday night against Delaware. Two banners commemorating last season's Ivy League championship and Sweet 16 berth will be unfurled in a ceremony scheduled for 6:50 p.m.
Wroblewski, the one returning starter from last year's team, missed Cornell's first two games while rehabbing an ankle injury. He practiced Tuesday, and, barring a setback, could see court time against the Blue Hens (0-1).
"If he can practice, you'll see him out there," Courtney said. "Him at 50 percent is still a good thing. We're not going to do anything to jeopardize the well-being of our team, or his well-being. He wants to play, there's no question about that."
Wroblewski's return could impact Gray's playing time. When Wroblewski was injured, Courtney needed a back-up plan in case sophomore Miles Asafo-Adjei became unavailable. That happened against Albany, when Asafo-Adjei picked up two fouls about midway through the first half.
Gray said Courtney told him to be ready, but he wouldn't go as far as to guarantee playing time. Gray then parlayed his opportunity into 19 minutes. He saw the same amount in Sunday's loss at Seton Hall.
"As soon as I stepped on the court, it was the same thing I was doing from day one," he said. "It's playing basketball, that's all it is. When I made my first shot, the nerves were done after that. Seeing that first shot drop, it calmed me down."
Delaware gets the bulk of its scoring from its guards, which means Cornell will need to play better help defense against dribble penetration than it did Sunday against the Pirates. Depending on Wroblewski's availability, some of that responsibility will fall to Gray.
If he continues to handle it well, the labels will fade. To his teammates, none of this is a surprise.
"It was a surprise to a lot of people, what Johnny came in and did on Friday night," Asafo-Adjei said. "If you asked anybody on the team, we weren't surprised at all. Johnny has always had that confidence."
* Delaware (0-1) at Cornell (1-1), 7 p.m.
Radio: WVBR (93.5)
Online: Follow Brian Delaney's in-game updates on twitter (@BDelaneyIJ) at www.ithacajournal.com/twitter.
Of note: Cornell will unfurl two banners in a pre-game ceremony honoring last year's Ivy League championship season and trip to the NCAA Sweet 16. The ceremony is expected to begin at 6:50 p.m.
Errick Peck got in early foul trouble in both Cornell's games this weekend, but that's about where the similarities end.
Against Albany, Peck looked nervous; he forced play, dribbled into double teams, missed shots he normally would make, turned the ball over and was frustrated by two fouls about 12 minutes in, and a third foul quickly whistled in the second half.
"Errick was extremely nervous," Bill Courtney said. "He said it to me on the bench when he was in foul trouble."
Courtney's frustration with the team's uncharacteristic play (compared to what he's seen in practice and scrimmages) was lessened when assistant Ricky Yahn pointed out that the team won in a tough road environment with only three combined points from Peck and Chris Wroblewski.
"When he said that, I was like 'Dang,'" Courtney said. "You know what, 'OK. That makes sense.'"
Fast forward to Sunday. Peck looked much more like himself in the opening minutes: confident, fluid and active. This time, he picked up a foul aggressively going for an offensive rebound, then was whistled moments later on a hand-check call that was, at best, ticky-tack. (The foul probably should have been called on the help defender, which I think was Wire.)
"He was definitely unlucky," Courtney said. "Watching the tape it was 6-5 when he went out. He had just broke the press and laid it in, and he made a move against their pressure, a spin move and he dumped to Aaron Osgood for a layup. So he contributed to both our field goals and broke the press, which were the things we needed to do. Him going out was huge for us on Sunday, because he was ready to play. It was just unfortunate."
If and when the breaks fall Peck's way, and he plays the minutes Courtney has planned for him, the coaching staff's expectations remain high.
"We still think he's going to have a terrific year," Courtney said.