Despite seeing the graduation of their two top scorers and captains from last year — Chris Wroblewski ’12 and Drew Ferry ’12 — the men’s basketball team is poised to be even better this year and challenge for an Ivy League Championship. The Red plays its season opener against Western Michigan at Newman Arena Saturday at noon.
With two familiar faces gone from the bench, the team is hoping to fill the leadership and production void.
“It’s going to be on everybody [to replace them],” said senior point guard Miles Asafo-Adjei. “We have six seniors, including myself, so we have some good leadership in place.”“Those two guys provided stuff that you can’t really replace,” added head coach Bill Courtney. “Wroblewski’s poise is the biggest thing we’ll miss, but we’ll also miss Ferry, Wroblewski and [Max] Groebe’s shooting ability, so we will need guys to fill that void.”
The past two years, the Red was a team that revolved around the 3-point shot, but that should change this year, with the graduation of Cornell’s three top shooters from last year. The Red plans on speeding the game up and getting easier baskets on the break.
"We’ll be a lot different this year; we won’t shoot as many threes, we’ll drive to the basketball, get fouled and post up more often,” Courtney said. “You base what you do offensively on your personnel. We were a 3-point shooting team in the last few years, but now we’re more athletic, more physical and a lot quicker. We’ll really try to make the game go faster, get after it defensively … and hopefully towards the end of games, we’ll be able to wear our opponents down.”
According to Asafo-Adjei, the Red looks to play to its strengths, like cashing in on easy buckets.
“This year, we’re definitely going to try and get more layups in transition,” the point guard said. “We have guys who can shoot the three… but our focus is on getting easy buckets and getting out on the break a little more this year.”
One key newcomer this year will be senior forward Errick Peck, who missed the entire 2011-2012 season due to an injured knee. He has worked his way back from the injury and the team is confident that he will play up to the high standard he set as a sophomore, when he was the third leading scorer on the team (11.0 points per game).
"[Peck] was a big loss for us last year. He’s had to work back from a knee injury; it’s been difficult for him,” Courtney said. “Right now, he’s probably better than when he was a sophomore. He’s gotten himself in terrific shape and shoots, rebounds and defends better than when he left.”
Peck echoed Courtney’s sentiments about his current conditioning.
“I think I’m a better player compared to my sophomore year from a mental standpoint,” the forward said. “From a physical standpoint, every day I feel stronger and I feel better, but am I 100 percent? Maybe, maybe not, but at the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and let my results speak for themselves.”
Another reason for optimism is the depth of the team. Many players have returned from summer showing improvements, so Courtney said that he expects to be able to use a very deep rotation.
“The returning players have done a great job improving their skills and bodies in the weight room and through conditioning,” he said. “We will have nobody who plays 35 minutes a game like last year. We’ll really spread playing-time out; guys will be asked to play as hard as they can on the floor and rest on the bench. There’s no resting on the floor — that’s our motto. It will be exciting — in both a bad and a good way at times — but it will definitely be exciting and we’ll have some very, very high-tempo, high-octane games.”
The Red’s first test will be Saturday against West Michigan, a very smart team with a formidable frontcourt.
“[Western Michigan] is a really solid team; they run a lot of motion-type offense and have several guys who can shoot the basketball.” Courtney said. “They have two inside guys who are very good. Shayne Whittington is a very good low post scorer who can shot jump shots and freshman Darius Paul… is 6-8, athletic and he’ll present us with issues, especially with his offensive rebounds.”
Beating Western Michigan will be a tall order for the Red to fill, as the Broncos will force Cornell to bring its highest level of competition to the court.
“[The Broncos] are a smart team who will make you beat them and won’t beat themselves. We’ll have to play at a high level in order to beat them,” Courtney said. “We’re going to make the tempo the way we want it and make it a game that’s high scoring and high possessions.”
With the season opener at home this year, Courtney said that he hopes the student body will come and cheer on the team in full force.
“I hope everyone comes out — especially the students — because when we have the students here, we have such a tremendous home-court advantage; it’s worth at least five points.” Courtney said. “We hope we see everybody out there, we’ll make it fun.”