|New Cornell Head Basketball Coach Bill Courtney|
By Donnie Webb
Syracuse Post Standard
November 10, 2010
It took months for the magnitude of Cornell’s accomplishments to exhaust its tingle factor. The Big Red’s wondrous run through the Ivy League and the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament lingered deep into the summer for guard Chris Wroblewski. At home in Chicago, Wroblewski’s friends stoked the feel-good memory wherever he went. They had watched with pride as Cornell advanced to the Sweet 16 at the Carrier Dome and stared down mighty Kentucky, a team that would ultimately produce six first-round draft picks. Each day felt as good as the last. The extended vibe, said Wroblewski, was “cool.”
But cool has given way to reality and the opening of another Cornell basketball season. Wroblewski is the lone returning starter from last season’s 29-5 team. On Tuesday, the Big Red point guard rode a stationary bike on the sidelines because of a sprained ankle that could keep him out of the opener at Albany on Friday and perhaps a Sunday game at Seton Hall. From his perch, Wroblewski surveyed a spirited practice and a team that has been shaken violently like a snow globe.
Gone are eight graduated seniors including the big three of Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman and Jeff Foote. Gone, too, is head coach Steve Donahue, the man who built Cornell basketball from an afterthought into an Ivy League monster. He’s now at Boston College. Wroblewski looks around sometimes and wonders: What happened to everybody?
“It’s a transition,” he said. “Any time you go through some kind of change like that, it’s very different. We’re going to have to understand that we’re going to have some adversity. There’s going to be some bumps in the road. It’s how we’re going to respond to that. I think this team, more than the last couple of years, is going to have to learn to be resilient.”
Into this vacuum steps 39-year-old Bill Courtney, a former Virginia Tech assistant who was named to succeed Donahue as head coach at Cornell. It’s Courtney’s first head coaching job. From the surface, it might seem like a tough spot. However, despite the heavy graduation losses, Donahue left enough talent and numbers that Cornell could challenge Princeton for the Ivy League title this season.
Returning players like Max Groebe and forward Mark Coury called it the “culture of winning.” They say it still fuels the Big Red and is part of the legacy of Donahue’s work at Newman Arena. Wroblewski said that beyond the chemistry Cornell possessed last year that everyone saw on the court, that same chemistry extended to the very end of the bench.
That chemistry, even with the addition of new players, still exists. They all recognize that significant change has come to Cornell basketball. It’s not that it’s bad change, it’s just what they call “different.”
“Obviously, there’s a whole new cast of characters coming in,” Coury said. “It comes down to a lot of perseverance.”
“It was a change for the good,” Groebe said. “We’ve got a great new coach. The freshmen are playing well. Obviously, it’s going to be a lot different. I lost a lot of great friends with the guys that graduated. I think we kept the same culture, which is the important thing.”
But culture doesn’t necessarily mean points and rebounds. How Cornell replaces the point production of Wittman and Dale along with the commanding inside presence of the 7-foot Foote is part of the great unknown opening the season.
Cornell players believe they won’t miss a beat in 3-point shooting a season after they led the nation. Groebe led the Big Red last season in 3-point accuracy at .561 percent. Wroblewski was the best 3-point shooter among the starters at .454 percent. Transfer Andrew Ferry from Palm Beach State (Junior) College made .455 of his 3-pointers last season.
Then there is sophomore forward Errick Peck, who Cornell folks believe is capable of being the most valuable player in the Ivy League. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Peck provided a glimpse of his abilities last year against Syracuse when he scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in 13 minutes. Peck averaged just 7 minutes a game last year as a reserve. This year, much more is expected.
Foot soldiers like Coury and Adam Wire will get increased minutes as part of the Cornell front line. So will senior forward Aaron Osgood, who is 6-9. How they hold up to increased demands along with the support of other inside players is another unknown.
“It’s going to be a different guy every night,” Wroblewski said of the team getting its points.
Courtney believes he’ll have a system not all that different from Donahue’s that will emphasize defensive pressure and pushing the ball in transition. He acknowledges that replacing Dale, Wittman and Foote, three players among the best in school history, is difficult. He believes there was enough talent left that will allow the Big Red to put a good, competitive team on the floor that will love the 3-pointer, push the tempo and get after it on defense.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting brand of basketball, hopefully one that will be successful for us and that the fans will enjoy,” he said.
So, where are they now? Here's a look at what happened to the eight graduated seniors from last season's three-time Ivy League and NCAA Sweet 16 basketball team:
Louis Dale – professional basketball for BG Göttingen (Germany) - Basketball Bundesliga (First Division)
Jeff Foote – professional basketball for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv (Israel) – First Division
Jon Jaques – professional basketball for Ironi Ashkelon (Israel) – First Division
Ryan Wittman – professional basketball for Fulgor Libertas Forli (Italy) – Second Division
Pete Reynolds – working for Greenman Pedersen, Inc. as a construction inspector on the Brooklyn Bridge Renovation Project
Alex Tyler – working as a finance and accounting recruiter in the DC area at Andrews & Cole LLC
Geoff Reeves – working for Cultural Consulting Services (ACS) in Ithaca as a field technician, service manager
Andre Wilkins – working as a substitute teaching and motivational speaker back home in Toronto.