Monday, March 14, 2011

Big Red Look to Get Bigger

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
March 14, 2011

Minutes after the Cornell men's basketball season ended on March 5, sophomore Josh Figini was thinking ahead. There were no plans for a week or two of rest, only thoughts of workout regimens -- and, yes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

"Preseason workouts start pretty early this year," the 6-foot-9 forward said. "I'm starting lifting right away. There's only so many weeks until next season."

Figini and Chemersinki showed flashes of being impactful interior players during brief snatches of time behind departing seniors Adam Wire, Mark Coury and Aaron Osgood.

The Ivy League entered the 2010-11 season with the perception as a guard-oriented league. That perception got flipped on its head as Harvard's Keith Wright and Kyle Casey, Princeton's Kareem Maddox and Ian Hummer, and Yale's Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg established themselves as excellent frontcourt combinations.

Not surprisingly, theirs ended up being the league's top three teams. Wright, Maddox (the lone senior of that group) and Mangano were unanimous first-team all-league selections. Cornell's 6-3 finish to a 10-18 season coincided with tremendous play from the 6-9, 240-pound Coury.

Cornell doesn't need, or expect, Figini and Chemerinski to become first-team all-league players as juniors. What the team needs first is consistent defense and rebounding, with complementary offensive production. That will only come with added muscle and weight gain this offseason.

"Definitely get in the weight room at least four times a week," Figini said. "Up the reps. Do everything I can to eat more. Anything I can to put on weight."

That includes some in-between meals.

"I've been making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the night before, and then I'll take three or four during the day and eat them between meals. That's what I'm doing now."

Figini, Chemerinski and Gatlin each entered this season with weights listed at 205 pounds.

"Strength is a very important thing when it comes to down-low presence," Coury said. "An extra 15 pounds of muscle, you don't even have to try as hard. They can sit there and get position automatically, almost. If they work hard in the weight room, spring and summer, that will help them immensely."

In certain years, Cornell would feel good about returning 76 percent of its total minutes played -- including every member of its backcourt. Problem is, graduation turnover across the league is expected to be minimal. Harvard, which lost out on the Ivy's automatic berth when Doug Davis beat the buzzer Saturday at Yale, does not have a senior on its roster.

"Just because we're coming back, doesn't mean we're going to be better. We have to work to get better individually and collectively," Courtney said. "We return a lot of guys, but so does the entire league. The league returns nine of its top 10 scorers in Ivy League play, and eight of the top 10 rebounders."

Cornell's 2010-11 season was disappointing. After winning three Ivy League championships, the Big Red endured a stretch of 14 losses in 16 games as a roster of players with overhauled roles and a new coaching staff essentially started at square one. The assembly process continued deep into February, after Cornell opened 0-5 in the league with an embarrassing road loss at Dartmouth. Overall, 10 of its 18 losses were decided by five points or less.

A new offensive system, which took months of adjustment, left Cornell open to lengthy scoring droughts. Cornell struggled to score and defend inside the three-point arc. Courtney's rotations fluctuated like the stock market. The roster lacked a shot-blocking presence as well as a penetrating influence to take pressure off scorers Chris Wroblewski (14.2 points per game, .433 on 3-point shooting), Drew Ferry (11.9 ppg), Max Groebe (6.7 ppg) and Johnathan Gray (4.7 ppg).

Courtney believes he has partially addressed both those needs with a six-man recruiting class -- his first as head coach. Still, freshmen are freshmen. And in a league of experienced talent, a marked improvement in 2011-12 will depend on Cornell's 15 returning players. Interior players aside, Courtney said 6-6 sophomore Errick Peck "needs to make a huge step" next year.

"He came on like we expected him to," Courtney said. "I think he can get even better. I thought he was really good down the stretch. When we moved him to the four, he started to rebound a little bit better. He needs to do that when he's at the three also."

Figini and Chemerinski possess different skill sets. Courtney said it won't be enough for the pair to just add strength; they need to log more competitive minutes in summer leagues and pick-up. That combination, teammates and Courtney believe, will enhance Cornell's optimism for a quick turnaround.

"Josh, he works out very hard," Coury said. "He works more or the same than most of us. He comes in for extra sessions. He's very committed. Eitan, I'd say is very agile. I'm sure he'll get quicker, stronger, more wiry muscle. I think I'd be scared if Eitan had another 10 pounds of muscle with his quickness. He'd be very deceptive, able to score around the basket. He's pretty athletic too."

The 2011-12 basketball season starts exactly seven months from today. That's plenty of time for a rigorous workout regimen, and an endless number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


Geoff said...

nice work boys- get to it!

Anonymous said...

We need to see the E Peck that dominated in high school and won mvp in the state all-star game. I think the beast will emerge next year.

Anonymous said...

Good Story and Insightful. Some players who are great in HS do not continue to grow and get relatively better. It is, in my opinion, mostly based on the desire and single-mindedness to do better, not the athleticism.

Anonymous said...

Staying healthy is key. A lot of guys from the teams prior to our championship squads routinely battled injuries forcing them to work on staying healthy rather than improving their game.