Friday, November 16, 2012

Cornell Daily Sun Annual Men's Basketball Supplement Preview

Below, the Cornell Daily Sun's Annual Supplement, a preview to Big Red Basketball...

A second half comeback effort was not enough to lift the Red (1-1) over St. Bonaventure (2-0) on Wednesday night. Though the Red fought back from a 14 point deficit — outscoring the Bonnies by seven in the second half — it was unable to come up with a big shot in the waning seconds of the game, and eventually fell 72-68.

The length and physical play of the Bonnies in the first half gave the Red a hard time on offense. Though sophomore guard Devin Cherry put up six points in six minutes off the bench, the Red went into the locker room down by eleven.

The second period was a different story, though. When Bonnies’ big man Youssou Ndoye went to the bench with an injury three minutes into the half, the Red’s offense came alive. Led by senior forward Errick Peck — who had 17 points and seven rebounds — the Red exploded for an 11-2 scoring run, to put them down by two with 12 minutes left. Cherry had eight more points in the second half, helping the Red to get back into its quick transition game by pushing the ball up the floor.

Though the Red continued to chip away on offense, the Bonnies seemed to find an answer every time down the court and were still up by eight with 1:30 left in the game. The Red were not ready to give up, though, and a jumper by Cherry followed by an And-1 by sophomore guard Galal Cancer cut the lead in half. After the Bonnies missed two free throws, sophomore forward Shonn Miller connected at the rim to put the Red down by two with 23 seconds left. After a turnover, Cherry drew a foul on the other end, but only made one. 

Coming out of a timeout with nine seconds left down by three, the Red got a great look at the basket. Senior forward Josh Figni — who had hit a big three earlier in the half — found the ball in his hands at the top of the key, but was unable to connect and the Red could not corral the rebound.

The Red will try to shake off the disappointing loss tonight at 8 p.m. against St. Peters at home. 

Unprecedented. While the magnitude of such a word carries strong implications, it is hard to not apply it to the 2009-10 men’s basketball team. After finishing the regular season with a near-perfect 27-4 record and clinching the Ivy League title, the Red earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

Under the leadership of former head coach Steve Donahue and then-seniors Louis Dale ’10, Jeff Foote ’10 and Ryan Wittman ’10, Cornell advanced through to the second round of the national tournament — marking the first time since 1979 that an Ivy League team made it that far into the post-season and the first time in program history that Cornell played in the Sweet 16. After beating Temple, 78-65, in Round 1 and Wisconsin, 87-69, in Round 2, Cornell eventually fell to top-seeded Kentucky, 45-62, in the third.

Watching the men’s basketball team write its history throughout the 2009-10 season with each new win and then play in the national spotlight was a source of great pride for Cornell sports fans. 

“Witnessing how much school pride everyone had from alumni to current students [was one of the best expereinces of making the Sweet 16,]” Dale said. “We received so much support and it felt great to know that everyone was proud of our team and university.”

The current senior class witnessed the historic Sweet 16 season; however, for many current Cornellians, players like Dale, Foote and Wittman are just legends.

Three years after the historic Sweet 16 run the Cornell bench has seen faces come and go. Donahue traded his coaching position at Cornell for one at Boston College, while the Red welcomed current head coach Bill Courtney into the locker room. Dale, Foote and Wittman have long since traded their lockers in Bartels for ones across the country and across the globe, but where are they now?

Louis Dale, Guard

During his time on the Hill, Dale was a razor-sharp point guard, known for his big offensive presence on the court. Despite standing just 5-11, the guard was one of the Red’s top rebounders during his Cornell career. 

Dale’s list of accomplisments and awards is formidable, boasting multiple All-Ivy and Ivy League honors. The 2007-08 Ivy League Player of the Year was a large contributing force to the Red’s NCAA Tournament run, as he notched 21 points and seven assists against No. 5-seeded Temple and a career-high 26 points against Wisconsin.

After wrapping up his Cornell career, Dale packed his bags and set off on a whirlwind trip around the world – playing in Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia, France, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Turkey. 

Dale also had a unique opportunity to play against a basketball great, who many NBA fans would recognize. 

“I got to play against Allen Iverson that probably was the highlight [of the past three years,]” Dale said. 

Currently playing in Greece for KAO Drama, Dale said that he hopes to continue to compete as long as his body can stand the pressure of the professional level of play.

“I plan on playing ball professionally until the wheels fall off,” he said.

Jeff Foote, Center

Standing at 7-0, Foote left quite the impression on Newman Arena during his three years with the Red. A transfer from St. Bonaventure, the skilled center and tri-captain immediately began contributing a great passion and energy on the court.

The 2008-09 and 2009-10 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year had a strong footwork base that aided him on both ends of the court. A unanimous first-team All-Ivy League pick during his senior year, Foote led the conference in field goal percentage (.633) and rebounds (8.1). 

A force to be reckoned with on the court, Foote anchored the Red’s defense which held opponents to shooting 42 percent from the floor. He contributed 16 points and seven rebounds against Temple and 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists against Wisconsin.

Like Dale, Foote has played professionally around the world, moving from Israel to Spain, Poland and the D-League of the NBA before settling in Lithuania, where he currently plays for Zalgiris Kaunus – the No. 2 team in Europe.

Despite a worldly professional career, Foote said that his biggest highlight of the past three years has been his stateside adventures with his former teammates.

“My biggest personal highlight has been living with [Wittman, Dale and Jon Jaques ’10] two summers ago and just [Dale] last summer and continually beating his ass in fight night,” Foote explained. “He's not any good.”

While basketball is still Foote’s main priority, law school or veterinary school are other options on the horizon. However, beating Dale in fight night will always factor in.

Ryan Wittman, Forward

Rounding out the legendary trio, Wittman was arguably one of the all-time greats in 3-point shooting in college basketball history. The 6-7 forward made a name for himself as a defensive rebounder during his career at Cornell.

Joining Dale and Foote as an Ivy League Player of the Year honoree for 2009-10, Wittman set a conference record with 109 3-point field goals during his senior campaign. He shot 47 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the arc and 83 percent from the line.

After graduating from Cornell, Wittman played professionally in Italy for a while before moving to the NBA Developmental League for a few months and eventually Poland, where he reunited with Foote. However, after dealing with recurring back problems, Wittman decided to hang up his jersey and pursue other career options.

“I am not playing basketball professionally anymore, the only time I play now is in a recreational league with some old high school teammates,” he said. “That three point line feels farther and farther away every time I go out there now.”

Wittman now has a position as an Asset Management Analyst at a Real Estate company in Minneapolis, Minn., but like Foote is not ruling out the idea of graduate school in the future.

After making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in school history in 2010, the Red graduated six seniors – including five of their top six scorers – and head coach Steve Donahue left Cornell to coach Boston College. The man put in charge of making the most out of this situation is head coach Bill Courtney, who was hired in April 2010 after Donahue’s departure. Although clearly a tough task, if Courtney’s past has proven anything, it’s that he is more than capable of facing this challenge.

Courtney went to college at Bucknell University, where he starred on the basketball team, being named to the First Team All-Patriot League in both 1991 and 1992. As a junior, he averaged 20.0 points, 3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. As a senior, he was the team captain and led the team to an appearance in the Patriot League championship game. He was elected to the Bucknell Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I had a great experience at Bucknell,” Courtney said. “I played for Charlie Woollum, a great coach and a great man who taught me a lot and recruited me before a lot of people noticed me. I had a great experience as a basketball player and a student and it helped me grow into an adult.”

After graduating Bucknell, Courtney continued his basketball career, playing for the Philadelphia Spirit in the USBL and playing in the NBA Summer League and attending training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks. After being cut, he played overseas in Hong Kong and the Philippines for two years before returning back to the USA to pursue his dream of coaching basketball.

“I could have kept playing if I knew… that [teams were going to start] paying more for American guards, but it worked out well because I got to start coaching, which is something I always wanted to do,” Courtney recalled. “I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to start my coaching career a couple years after college.”

After returning to the USA, his first coaching opportunity came from Lafayette College, a school in the Patriot League, who offered him just $2,000 for the year. To make enough money to support himself, he picked up a job at Chili’s on the side as a waiter. Eventually, American University offered him a position, paying him $16,000 a year, which he ultimately accepted.

He moved on to Bowling Green University to work under Jim Larranaga, who he followed to George Mason and helped turn the program into a powerhouse that led to a Final Four appearance in 2006.

“I followed Coach Larranaga, who’s my mentor, to George Mason, who had eight straight losing seasons and four straight last place finishes in the CAA,” Courtney said. “By our second year, we were in the NCAA Tournament; we built that school into a power in the CAA. It culminated in the Final Four Appearance in 2006, but [I actually left] for Providence [in 2005], after I recruited all those guys,” Courtney laughed off.

Courtney then made stops in Virginia, VCU and Virginia Tech before becoming the head coach of Cornell. Along his journey, he has learned a lot from his mentors.

“I’ve learned a lot from all the guys I worked for,” Courtney exuded. “Working for Larranaga, I learned how to run a program; he taught me stuff that I use every day in practice. He taught me how to run a program in a first-class manner, there’s so much more than just coaching your basketball team. Working for Dave Leitao [at Virginia], he taught me about toughness and working hard and how guys can be pushed to reach things they don’t even think they can. Seth Greenberg [at Virginia Tech] is just an incredible basketball mind; he’s taught me so much about the game, skill development and offensive execution. I’ve had success as an assistant and I understand what it will take to get there just from the guys who I’ve worked for.”

At Cornell, changing coaches from Donahue to Courtney and losing all those great players has been a process, but it has gotten easier as Courtney can recruit the players he wants.

“When you take over after the greatest run in school history and all those guys leave, it’s a rebuilding process,” Courtney said. “Now for the first time, we have the guys we’ve recruited — we have two recruiting classes now — so it feels like it’s our team now. Everybody understands what we’re doing a little bit better and the new guys … have raised our talent level and we feel like we can compete at a very high level this year.”

Something that Courtney has shown a great ability to do is recruit and something that will keep Cornell competitive and relevant as long as Courtney is the coach of Cornell basketball.

“My assistants Mike Blaine and Marlon Sears do a great job ... of identifying student athletes; guys who can do the work here but are also great basketball players,” Courtney explained. “Once he identifies those guys, he works very hard to get those guys in front of me. One thing about me as a recruiter — and the reason I’ve had successes — is that if I believe in something strongly enough, I’m going to sell you on it; I’m not going to sell you something if I don’t believe in it. We’ve got a great staff, some great … players and Cornell University speaks for itself. When I have a great product to preach about, it becomes pretty easy for me.”

Last year, Cornell’s two leading scorers were the two senior captain guards, Chris Wroblewski ’12 and Drew Ferry ’12. With the gradation of both, it will obviously be hard to replace the production and leadership of both players on the court.

The Red will attempt to replace the impact of the duo by relying on great depth in the backcourt. Seniors Miles Asafo-Adjei and Johnny Gray, sophomore Galal Cancer and freshman Nolan Cressler are all expected to play big minutes at the guard positions.

“I think our depth at the guard position is something that we’ll depend on all year,” Asafo-Adjei assessed. “Against Western Michigan, it was tough for us to get started offensively, but Nolan [Cressler] came in and had a great game for us and got it started on the offensive end; this speaks to the depth we have at the guard position and all the different guys who can contribute at any time.”

Along with Wroblewski and Ferry, Max Groebe ’12 has also graduated from last year’s team — arguably the best three shooters from last year. Losing this shooting ability is not easy; although the Red will still be a threat from deep, the team plans on getting more points near the rim, according to Asafo-Adjei.

“This year, we won’t shoot as many threes as we have in the past,” Asafo-Adjei said. “A lot of our focus this year is on getting out in transition and scoring easy baskets, whether that is layups or quick post ups. However, when we have the opportunity to shoot threes, we still will. With Gray and Cressler and some other guys like [junior guard] Dom Scelfo, we’re still a good three-point shooting team, but it will not be our emphasis like it has been in the past.”

One key player to watch for this year will be Cressler, who won Ivy League Rookie of the Week after his spectacular 20 point performance. According to Asafo-Adjei, although he’s just a freshman, the Red expects huge production from him this season.

“Nolan is the first name that comes to mind,” Asafo-Adjei responded when asked who he expects to have a breakout year. “From watching him in practice, we all know what he can do, but for him to come out and drop 20 points and 6-of-8 from three in his first game was incredible and a welcome sight. If he can continue to play at that level, we’re going to do well this year.”

“[Cressler] averaged like 30 points a game in high school,” senior forward Errick Peck commented. “He can score and is a good defender as well. He’s going to give us a lot of energy off the bench ... He’s going to make plays on offense and we’re glad to have him around.”

Gray will also be an intrical part in the Red’s crew of guards as he has experienced the team from on and off the court. Last season he finished sixth in the Ivy League for scoring and hopes to make that big of an impact on the court for Cornell in his last season.

“In your last year, you really want to try to be a vocal leader,” he said. “Being a leader on the floor means taking accountability for my mistakes, but at the same time correcting the freshmen’s mistakes … whatever I can do to make their game better and put them in the right direction for when I leave.”

In its first game against Western Michigan, the Red was relentless on defense, holding the Broncos to just 30% shooting from the floor. This solid defensive effort was led by the forwards, who combined for eleven blocks and five steals. 

With length and depth at this position, the Red will look to its forwards especially for defensive pressure.

“Defense is always emphasized in practice, it’s going to be an important part of our success,” said senior forward Eitan Chemerinski. “We did a good job [against Western Michigan] getting onto the help side and getting some weak side blocks.”

Leading the attack defensively and offensively is sophomore forward Shonn Miller — the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Miller averaged 6.1 rebounds per game last year, and finished the season second in the conference in blocked shots with 48.

On Saturday, Miller was a wall in the paint, swatting six shots — two of which ended up behind the home team’s bench.

Joining Miller in the frontcourt is senior forward Errick Peck, who is returning from an injury that sidelined him for his entire junior year. However, Peck was one of the Red’s main options in his sophomore campaign, averaging 11 points and 3.6 rebounds off the bench. His explosive moves to the basket and ability to get to the free throw line will take some of the pressure of scoring off Miller. Peck proved his ability to score against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards before fouling out in the final minutes of the loss. 

According to Chemerinski, the depth the squad has at this position is something that will benefit the team as the season wears on.

“Coach emphasizes resting on the bench in order to play with a lot of energy,” he said. “We’ll always have guys to step in and there won’t be a drop off.”

Because Chemerinski, Miller and Peck are all starters, an integral part of that depth will be senior forward Josh Figini and junior forward Dwight Tarwater. Figini gave the Red an important spark off the bench last season, putting up 4.3 points and 2.1 rebounds a game. 

At 6-9 with the ability to step out and hit from beyond the arc as well, Figini can draw larger defenders out to the perimeter and open up space for offensive rebounding. 

Tarwater made seven starts as a junior, giving Cornell a solid 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

Beyond these five forwards who have already been given significant minutes, the Red can also look to senior Peter McMillan, sophomores Dave LaMore and Nenad Tomic and freshman Holt Harmon to give the starters some extra rest.

Sophomore Deion Giddens and freshman Braxton Bunce also provide some significant height as centers, though Giddens can also play forward. At 6-11, Bunce is the tallest player on the Red’s roster, but is sidelined for the start of this season with an injury.

Chemerinski noted that this extra rest would be especially important considering the style of basketball the Red plays.

“We’re a quick team, the transition game will be a way to get easy baskets,” he said. “As bigs, we have to run the floor to get guys open and create those easy opportunities.”

With all three starting forwards healthy for the first time this season, and with plenty of options off the bench that can give the starters a breather from the squad’s fast paced transition game, the Red’s frontcourt will be a steadfast backbone for the defense.

Almost four years ago, senior guard Johnny Gray was watching his team play from behind the bench as a manager. Last year, he earned himself a regular spot on the floor. Now, he is an everyday starter, a vocal leader and a go-to player offensively for the squad as it looks to return to the top of the Ivy League.

“It’s been quite a journey, going from nothing to something like that,” Gray said. “It was a very humbling experience.”

As a freshman, Gray spent the first half of the year trying to make his name known by just being around the team.

“I wanted to be part of the team in any way, shape or form,” he said. “So I took everything in small steps.”

He was added to the team in December of that year and joined a roster of talented, big-names. “When I walked on to the team in the middle of the year, I made that last step,” Gray said. “I made it known that I could actually play basketball, and then I really wanted to try to stand out.”

According to Gray, watching the cohesive unit of players like Jeff Foote ’10, Louis Dale ’10 and Ryan Wittman ’10 was an inspiring experience. It gave him the opportunity to understand what it takes to make a great basketball team.

“It was awesome getting the chance to see how great a team could be when they work together like that. Practice was always really intense…I’ve never seen a team play basketball at that level, which is what we’re trying to do here now,” he said. “It kind of helps to understand the amount of work it takes to get to that level.”

Gray only played in four games that year, but surprised everyone sophomore year by averaging 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds in only 13.4 minutes per game.

After solidifying his spot in the starting rotation junior year — averaging 12.3 points per game in conference games and scoring in double figures 12 times — Gray took the next step in his game, this time to the professional level. Last summer he made the U.S. Virgin Islands National team, a squad that competed in the FIBA Centrobasket Championship in order to try to qualify for the Olympic games in London. Although his team went 1-4 in his time there, the opportunity to play high-level basketball against overseas and NBA players was a lasting experience for Gray.

“It was a great chance to travel, to get out of the country and play against top-notch competitions” Gray said. 

Now, in his final season with the Red, Gray is embracing his role in the future of Cornell basketball.

“Being a leader means taking accountability for my mistakes, but at the same time correcting the freshmen’s mistakes...whatever I can do to put them in the right direction when I leave.”

On Monday night the men’s basketball team blocked 13 shots — one shy of its all time record. Of those 13 rejections, six of them came from one man: sophomore forward Shonn Miller.

In the 2011-2012 campaign Miller made his presence known on defense blocking more than forty shots and setting the team’s all time record for blocks from a freshman. His total of forty-six was second in the Ivy League. Miller also finished the season with 170 rebounds and averaged 1.3 steals a game.

“He’s just a tremendous defender,” says head coach Bill Courtney. “He can guard one through five position-wise, he can rebound the basketball, [and] obviously his shot blocking is unbelievable.

Last season, Miller picked up Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors five times and eventually took home the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. He also ranked among the top 10 freshman scorers in school history with his 250 points, averaged 8.9 points per game, and recorded three double-doubles last season.

“If it wasn’t for other people to set me up, I would not have gotten [the Ivy League Rookie of the Year Award],” Miller said.

And according to Courtney, he’s “continuing to get better.”

Though he matched his point-scoring average from last season with 9 points in the team’s opener against Western Michigan, Courtney says he can be even more productive this season.

“He didn’t have the offensive game that he’s been having in scrimmages for us. We know he’s going to pick that up also.”

With tremendous skills on both the offensive and defensive ends, Miller has one big goal in mind for his career on the hill.

“I would like to be known as one of the best guys to play [at Cornell].”

Although it looked like Harvard was a runaway favorite for the Ivy League championship last year, Penn surprised many Ancient Eight fans by coming within one game of forcing a tiebreaker to decide who would wear the crown. The Crimson may have escaped with an NCAA tournament bid, but the magic of a Top-25 ranking and first bid in almost 70 years evaporated with a first round exit. This year, the Ivy League — with the Crimson’s roster rocked by a cheating scandal at the start of the academic year — looks to be wide open and full of surprises once again as the teams head into the season.

Brown Bears
2011: 7-3, 4-3 Ivy

The Bears finished second to last in the conference and last in scoring defense, allowing just under 70 points per game to Ivy opponents last season. Nevertheless, Brown returns its top two scorers in junior guard Sean McGonagill and senior guard Stephen Albrecht. The Bears’ lineup is guard heavy, though, with only one player on the roster — sophomore center Rafael Maia — taller than 6-8. Maia did not play a single game as a freshman, and will have to become accustomed to being a big man on the collegiate level very quickly in order to compete with the frontcourts of teams like Princeton and Cornell.

Columbia Lions
2011: 1-9, 1-6 Ivy

Though the Lions struggled with only four wins in the conference last year, the squad returns all three of its top scorers in senior guard Brian Barbour, junior guard Meiko Lyles and senior center Mark Cisco. The trio combined for 36 points per game last season, with Barbour leading the attack with 15.5 points. Cisco was fifth in the league in rebounding with 7.2 per game. The Lions are the only team in the Ancient Eight to return this much offense. Combine this with the fact that the team was second in the league in scoring defense — only allowing an average of 62.5 points per game — the Lions have an opportunity to quietly climb up the ranks of the Ivy League this season.

Dart­mouth Big Green
2011: 5-5, 4-3 Ivy

Dartmouth had a dismal 2011-12 campaign, finishing in the cellar of the league with just one conference win. The sole bright spot for the Green was the play of freshman Jvonte Brooks, who led the squad in scoring with 9.4 points per game. He was a four-time recipient of the Ivy League Rookie-of-the-week and was the team’s MVP. Freshman guard Alex Mitola has also shown some promise in early on this season, scoring 17 points in a loss to in-state rival UNH this week. Brooks and Mitola will need to provide a significant chunk of the Green’s offense if the team wants to improve at all this season, and relying on two underclassmen could be the squad’s downfall.

Harvard Crimson
2011: 9-1, 7-0 Ivy

Caught up in a school wide cheating scandal, the Crimson lost its co-captains and leading scorers in Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey coming into this season. After being implicated in the scandal, both players withdrew from the school in order to retain eligibility to play one more year of college basketball. Casey and Curry combined for 19 points per game last season, and Curry led the team with 4.9 assists. This shock comes side-by-side with the loss of the Crimson’s formidable big man, Keith Wright and craft point guard Oliver McNally to graduation. Wright and McNally tore up their Ivy competition in their senior campaign, combining for an average of 18 points. Wright was also named to the All-Ivy first team and ranks first in school history and eleventh in Ivy League history in blocks with 149 in his career. After suffering these losses, in order to repeat as Ivy champions, the Crimson will need production out of junior guard Laurent Rivard and sophomore guard Wesley Saunders, who were both important role players for the squad last year.

Penn Quakers
2011: 5-5, 4-3 Ivy

The Ivy runner-ups from last season have a lot of offense to make up for if they want to compete at the top of the conference again. The Quakers lost top two scorers in Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernadini. Rosen — an explosive offensive player who averaged 18.2 points per game — finished the season as the Ivy League’s leading scorer. Bernadini was not far behind at seventh in the league with 12.2 points per game. The Quakers do have the return of junior guard Miles Cartwright, who chipped in with 10.8 points per game last year. With a roster devoid of seniors, Cartwright will have to be a leader both on the floor and in the locker room, if the Quakers are to make some noise in the league.

Princeton Tigers
2011: 1-9, 1-6 Ivy

The most decorated Ivy League basketball team, with 26 Ivy titles and 24 tournament appearances are the Tigers, who have the good fortune of returning the league’s third leading scorer and fourth leading rebounder from last season — senior forward Ian Hummer. Hummer averaged 16.1 points and 7.3 boards per game, and remains one of the league’s top big men. The Tigers have suffered the loss of guard Doug Davis, though, who graduated as the second-leading scorer in program history. Hummer is joined by junior guard T.J. Bray — who is averaging 5.5 assists so far this season — and 6-11 center Brendan Connolly, the Tigers have the length and speed to return to the top of the conference this season.

Yale Bulldogs
2011: 5-5, 4-3 Ivy

The Bulldogs had a solid 2011-12 campaign with nine wins and a fourth place finish in the Ivy League. However, the squad also said goodbye to its top two scorers in Greg Mangano and Reggie Whillite. Mangano — a lanky 6-10 center — was second in the league in scoring with 18.2 points per game and first in rebounding with 9.7 boards. Senior guards Michael Grace and Austin Morgan — who combined for 17 points last year — will have to use quickness to generate offense without the presence of Mangano as a go-to option in the paint.

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