By Brian Delaney
March 4, 2011
Come what may for the Cornell men's basketball program, the senior trio of Aaron Osgood, Adam Wire and Mark Coury will always be welcome guests in Bill Courtney's household.
The simple fact is this: in a season with several near-unbearable moments of frustration involving players used only to winning, emotions never approached the line of mutiny against a new coaching staff with a different philosophy.
"They really kept their teammates up, kept them working hard and showing a lot of leadership in that way, on and off the floor," Courtney said. "I think it's been a joy in my first year to coach a group of guys like that."
Cornell enters the final weekend of the 2010-11 season with a record of 8-18, and a 4-8 Ivy League mark. The program took a step back, but not as far back as it could have been.
Players remain close. The off-campus basketball house will continue. Most telling, Cornell didn't regress when it was officially eliminated -- weeks ago -- from winning a fourth league title. It's improved steadily, with a 4-3 record in its last seven games.
The league title could be decided Saturday in Cambridge, where first-place Princeton (22-5, 10-1) and second-place Harvard (21-5, 10-2) are scheduled to meet. Princeton then visits Penn on Tuesday night. If there's a tie for first place, a one-game playoff will be held at a neutral site to determine the Ivy League's NCAA tournament representative.
Cornell's season ends with visits from Brown tonight and Yale on Saturday.
"It's so nice to see how close-knit we are," Osgood said. "Seniors to the freshmen. Next year everyone's going to live in the same house again, and that kind of shows us that we're the leaders of this family and we've kept it together. Even through a season where a record isn't the greatest, we're still close. We're not at each other's throats if we're not performing."
The three discussed favorite memories after Wednesday's practice, and each had his own No. 1. Osgood recalled last season's Sweet 16 run, specifically a moment when the media horde surrounding Jeff Foote's locker spilled over into his own after the Wisconsin win in Jacksonville.
"Everybody wanted to talk to Foote," Osgood said. "So they're all crowding in, and some people couldn't get their microphones in so they were like, 'Well let's interview you.' So then they're like, 'Oh, who are you?' But I was loving it."
Wire's first thought went to the wild 2007-08 court-storming, which marked Cornell's first championship in 20 years. Then a freshman, his role expanded considerably in the years to follow.
Coury, who transferred from Kentucky in 2008, went with playing in so many "crunch-time games."
"It was such a team thing," he said. "It was for the whole team. It wasn't who wants the last shot or who will be the guy on ESPN. Our whole team really bought into that system, really believed in it, and it was something we wanted to protect."
Coury has played some of his best basketball over the past seven games. He hit the go-ahead shot with 35 seconds left in Saturday's two-point win over Penn.
Osgood has missed the past month with a torn MCL, but is hoping to get cleared for Saturday's game. Each of the three seniors praised Courtney for his handling of the team. Wire sees Cornell becoming a faster-paced team in years to come.
"A lot of press, a lot of up and down," he said, laughing. "So maybe it's a good time to get out of here."
Cornell split its road trip through Brown and Yale in early February, losing to the Bulldogs before beating the Bears. The Yale loss was perhaps the most frustrating moment of the season: the Big Red blew a 10-point lead with 2 minutes left and lost by a point.
Osgood believes the program isn't far away from being a winning one again.
"Hopefully next year everyone's learning time is over and they start winning those close ones," he said. "Because I honestly think if we had beaten St. Bonaventure, if we had beaten Lehigh, those early games that we lost that were devastating, I think we'd have a lot more wins. Those close losses devastated us, pretty much."
It didn't fester into discontent. Courtney has his three unassuming seniors to thank for that.
"They've been great," he said. "To have guys have such great attitude, work hard every day, great teammates, great people. Tremendous character. It's been a joy to coach these guys."