Monday, October 22, 2012

Blue Ribbon Yearbook Previews Cornell

Cornell Big Red
Last Season 12-16 (.429)
Conference Record 7-7 (5th)
Starters Lost/Returning 2/3
Coach Bill Courtney (Bucknell '92)
Record At School 22-34 (2 years)
Career Record 22-34 (2 years)
RPI Last 5 years 68-115-37-212-186


Not long after he arrived at Cornell two years ago, coach Bill Courtney looked at his team and realized the style he wanted to play wasn't going to fit the players he had. He had inherited a roster loaded with shooters. The Big Red were known for being especially prolific from behind the three-point arc, ranking among the best perimeter shooting teams not only in the Ivy League but also nationally.

So for the last two seasons, Courtney has played to his team's strengths while recruiting for the style he prefers. Slowly, he has been transforming Cornell from a jump-shooting squad into a more athletic, defensive-minded team.

While the Big Red remains a program in transition between the two styles, it is becoming decidedly more defensive than offensive oriented -- so much so that Courtney is even a bit concerned about where the scoring will come from this season. "When you lose guys like [first-team All-Ivy] Chris [Wroblewski] and Drew Ferry, guys who can put the ball in the basket, that's 30 some points a game [that has to be replaced]," Courtney said. "We've got to get a lot more in transition. We have to create some offense off our defense. We won't shoot as many threes. We'll look to post up different guys. We'll look to attack the basket and get fouled. We'll certainly change the way we do things offensively because the last few years we've been doing everything to get a 3-point shot."

Although Cornell does not return any players who finished last season with double-figure scoring averages, that stat is a bit misleading. It doesn't take into account the return of Errick Peck (11.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg in 2010-11) who missed all of last season with a knee injury. The 6-6 senior forward was the team's third-leading scorer two years ago.

"We feel like he's our most talented player," Courtney said.

When he's healthy, Peck creates match-up problems because of his size and quickness. He is bigger than most wing players in the league and speedier than most power forwards. He also is more suited to a transition game than a half-court offense.

Courtney isn't too worried that the year off will set Peck back.

"He looks very good," Courtney said. "I think that year off might even help him, learn the game a little bit more, get a little more hunger from not being out there. I think some of the things he may have lacked from a mental aspect I think the year out is going to help him with that."

No player better exemplifies the type of athlete Courtney is looking to build his program around than Shonn Miller. The 6-7 sophomore forward (8.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) earned Ivy League rookie-of-the-year honors last season after setting freshman school records for rebounds (170) and blocked shots (46). He also ranks among the top 10 freshmen scorers (250 points) in school history.

"He's a tremendous talent, great defensive player who can guard one through five," Courtney said. "He's still not where he needs to be offensively, but he's really working at it. & He needs to identify who he is as a player." Johnathan Gray (8.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) has gone from manager on Cornell's Sweet 16 team to walk-on to starter to All-Ivy honorable mention to member of the U.S. Virgin Islands national team that competed in Puerto Rico during the summer. Through hard work and perseverance, the 6-3 senior guard's career continues to defy log-ic.

Although he had an inconsistent season, Gray showed flashes of brilliance. He piled up 12 double-digit scoring games, including a career-high 29 points against Yale.

"He's one of the guys who can get his own shot on the team," Courtney said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's our leading scorer this year."

Galal Cancer (6.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.7 apg) has the unenviable task of replacing Wroblewski, the program's all-time assist leader, at point guard. Having gone through a season of growing pains, the 6-2 sophomore should be somewhat prepared for the task.

"He's really made a ton of strides in the spring," Courtney said. "We saw his maturation and development. We're expecting big things from him. & He knows that it's his team now. He's the guy. We'll go as far as he can lead us. He's got to be a leader, even as a sophomore."

When he set out to rebuild the roster, Courtney didn't just focus on finding athletes who played defense. He also wanted to add some height. Cornell had the worst rebounding margin in the league last season, getting out-rebounded by nearly six boards a game.

"That's one of the things we've lacked a little bit the last few years was size," he said. "Essentially, we brought in seven big guys in two years."

Big men usually take longer to blossom than guards, and Deion Giddens (0.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg) and Dave LaMore (1.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg) are no exceptions. Giddens, a 6-9 sophomore center, is an athletic shot blocker who needs to get better at finishing around the rim on offense and holding his position on defense. LaMore, a 6-9 sophomore center, finished his freshman year strong but needs to become more of a presence underneath the basket.

Eitan Chemerinski (5.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg), a 6-8 senior center, is a solid low post scorer, while 6-9 senior forward Josh Figini (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg) is a perimeter shooting big man.

Miles Asafo-Adjei (2.7 ppg) was hampered by a leg infection last season and missed 15 games. When healthy, the 6-2 senior is a good defensive guard with strong ball-handling skills.

Courtney calls Devin Cherry (1.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg), a 6-3 sophomore guard, "probably the best one-on-one player on the team."

Dominick Scelfo (1.4 ppg), 6-3 junior guard, and Dwight Tarwater (3.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg), 6-6 junior forward, will fight for minutes.

Although he is just a freshman, Nolan Cressler (Plum HS/Pittsburgh, Pa.) might provide the answer to Cornell's scoring concerns. The 6-4 guard finished as his high school's all-time scoring leader (1,565 points). Last season he averaged 25.8 points.

Braxston Bunce (Kelowna Secondary School/Kelowna, British Columbia), a 6-11 freshman center, was a member of Canada's U19 national team. He's more developed offensively than defensively, but has been plagued with knee troubles.

Holt Harmon (Plano West HS/Plano, Texas), a 6-9 freshman forward, is good at carving out space underneath the basket.



Cornell still has a long way to go before it becomes the kind of defensive team Courtney envisions. Still, there are signs the Big Red's young talent is making strides. Although Cornell allowed the second-most points in the Ivy League (67.8 ppg), it also led the league in steals (7.8 spg) and forced the most turnovers (15.5 tpg).

As the Big Red continues to forge its identity, it would certainly help to start the season off well. Cornell has struggled in its nonconference schedule the last couple years, mainly because it played so many road games. This season, Courtney purposely scheduled more games at home.

"We have a chance to gain some momentum," Courtney said. "I think that will be huge for our kids. If we can get momentum early in the season, get some wins under our belt, I think that will help those guys when we get to league play."

It's probably too soon to expect Cornell to challenge for the top spot in the league. But don't be surprised if the Big Red moves back into the upper half of the standings.

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