Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Around the Rim with Brian Delaney

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
February 1, 2011

Ryan Wittman is no stranger to the unexpected, sometimes cold job turnover rate within professional sports. His dad, Randy Wittman, has bounced around in the NBA coaching circles for nearly two decades -- moves that directly impact family life.

So the 2010 Cornell graduate, and the men's basketball program's all-time leading scorer, is handling his first unexpected career twist about as well as can be. The 6-foot-7 small forward came to a mutual agreement two weeks ago with his Italian team, Forli, to terminate his contract after just over a three-month stint abroad.

Wittman said Monday the decision was based on the club needing to cut back its finances.

"I think there was one of those situations where we weren't really winning games, and I think the team wanted to start to save some money," he said. "They started making a lot of changes. I wasn't really the first guy to go, and they (let go) other guys after I left."

Wittman also said Monday he's figured out his next stop: the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA's Development League.

Wittman will report to the club today. The move will mean a pay cut, but puts him closer to his Minneapolis-based family.

"The D-League's got a lot of great players," he said. "It's another chance to play good competition and make myself better for next year. ... Wherever it lands me, I think I can't really get caught up focusing about next year, considering it's still in the middle of this year. I want to let it play out."

Naturally, there's an adjustment period going from college ball to the European pro ranks. The three-point shot is longer, there are language barriers to overcome (a Forli assistant coach often had to translate the head coach's instructions to Wittman), and Wittman went essentially from the toast of a campus -- and a house with 13 roommates -- to a foreign country and an apartment for one.

Wittman said he felt he played well in Italy. He could have shot more consistently from the three-point arc, but felt he was turning a corner. He said both the organization and fan base treated him well.

ittman said he's kept up with other former Big Red players abroad: Jon Jaques (Israel), Louis Dale (Germany) and Jeff Foote (Spain, by way of Israel). They've leaned on each other for support.

But his outlook Monday might have been the exact words his father spoke at one time or another following the latest job change.

"I think basketball is basketball, and every situation isn't going to work out," Ryan said. "I think that's something all of us knew going into this. That every situation is going to be different, every spot you're in, you won't be able to make a Sweet 16 type of run. Everything's not going to work out just like you want to. That's true of life in general."

Fort Wayne is 13-15 in the D-League's Eastern Conference standings. Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin currently plays for the Reno Bighorns.

Ivy notes

* The thing with the weekend nature of the Ivy League schedule: give players and coaches enough time to study an opponent (a week, in this instance), and it's long enough for them to successfully take away something your team does well.

Two examples: Yale's Austin Morgan and Cornell's Drew Ferry. Morgan, a sophomore guard, had a terrific non-league schedule for the Bulldogs. He shot 48 percent from the field and the three-point arc, and averaged 14.6 points in 14 nonleague games. In four Ivy games, he's been held to 6, 2, 5 and 11 points, and is shooting 24 percent (8-for-34) and 26 percent (4-for-15).

Ferry's been hounded since his 23-point effort against Columbia in Game 1 of the 14-game schedule. In three games since, Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard have held him to a combined 6-for-28 shooting with 18 misses in 22 three-point attempts. He scored 5, 6 and 5 points in those games.

The drop-off isn't a lack of effort. Ferry is clearly working to get open without the ball. But Cornell's interior scoring options are so limited that opponents can successfully overplay the perimeter without worrying about getting burned inside. Opponents aren't helping off Ferry, and the help defense is aware of his presence at all times when he gets a step on his man off a screen.

* Harvard coach Tommy Amaker went out of his way Saturday night to commend Bill Courtney's job in his first year as Cornell coach. Amaker mentioned the difficulty of the situation: taking over a team with massive turnover, facing a stronger-than-usual schedule, and dealing with the fallout from an atypical number of close losses.

"I give all the credit in the world to Bill Courtney, to keep those kids fighting, scratching and clawing," Amaker said. "I know how hard that can be when things don't go your way, but they play hard.

"I think they're a very good team. I think they're going to be a tough out when the year goes on, especially when they get games at home."

* Errick Peck, despite being weakened by an ill-timed stomach bug, was terrific in Saturday's loss to Harvard. He scored 15 points in 17 well-dispersed minutes, making six of eight shots.

"I was getting winded in warmups just shooting around," he said. "You just have to play through it sometimes."

* Courtney was without the services of three mid-sized wing reserves over the weekend: 6-4 guard Max Groebe, 6-5 forward Manny Sahota and 6-6 forward Dwight Tarwater. Tarwater is out for the season after coming down with mononucleosis. Groebe had an illness and Sahtoa suffered a sprained ankle in practice.

Their absences mattered against Harvard. One example: at the end of the first half, Courtney had 6-foot-1 Jake Matthews guarding 6-6 Laurent Rivard. Rivard hit a 3 over Matthews to end the half and give the Crimson a 10-point lead.

* The Ivy office once again named co-players of the week, as Penn's Jack Eggleston and Harvard's Kyle Casey shared the honor. Penn freshman Miles Cartwright was named rookie of the week.

* Big weekend upcoming for league-leader purposes. The Crimson (15-3, 4-0) visit Princeton (14-4, 2-0) on Friday and Penn (8-8, 2-0) on Saturday.

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