Thursday, November 7, 2013

Syracuse Post Standard Previews Cornell

Cornell's Errick Peck (right) transferred to Purdue last spring. He's now starting for the Boilermakers. 

Bill Courtney enters his fourth season as Cornell's head coach this year.

Syracuse, N.Y. — In his last three years at Cornell, coach Steve Donahue guided the Big Red to three straight 20-win seasons with an NCAA Tournament appearance in each one and a trip to the Sweet 16 at the end of the run in 2010.
The three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament represent an era of unparalleled success in Cornell basketball history. It's a history that now seems impossible to live up to for the current Big Red coaches and players.
But what is too easily forgotten is the fact that it took Donahue seven years before guiding the Big Red to a winning season. In his first three years at Cornell, Donahue's teams were 9-33 in the Ivy League.
Last year, Bill Courtney was on the verge of a winning record in just his third year on the job. Courtney took over the Cornell basketball program following Donahue's departure for Boston College after the Big Red's memorable NCAA Tournament run in 2010.
The Big Red was sitting at 5-3 in the Ivy League thanks to three consecutive victories. Four of Cornell's next six games were at home. The schedule and his team's continuing improvement had Courtney thinking the Big Red could challenge Harvard and Princeton for the league title.
Then Johnathan Gray, Cornell's second-leading scorer, missed the team's last six games due to off-court issues. Shonn Miller, the Big Red's best player, injured his shoulder and missed the last four games. Starting guard Devin Gray suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the last four games. And then starting point guard Galal Cancer inexplicably left the team with two games remaining in the season.
Cornell lost its last six games to finish 13-18 overall and 5-9 in the Ivy League. 

"It's one thing to have injuries at the beginning of the year because you can adjust and rally,'' Courtney said. "But to lose those guys and lose them when we did was a tremendous blow.''
Cornell opens the 2013-14 season on Friday against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, but what Courtney had planned on being another season in which the Big Red would challenge for an Ivy League title looks like another rebuilding effort.
The hits just kept on coming for Cornell in the offseason. Cancer never returned to the team. Errick Peck, a 6-6 forward who averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds last year, earned his degree and decided to transfer to Purdue rather than return for his senior year at Cornell. Peck, a 6-6 forward, is now starting at Purdue.
And Miller's shoulder injury eventually required offseason surgery and his return is uncertain. He could be out until January. He could miss the entire year.
"Not only did we lose guys last year, but we lost our three most experienced guys going into this year,'' Courtney said. "Finding out we were not getting Errick Peck back last spring was difficult. Losing Galal Cancer, who was supposed to be our starting point guard, left us searching for a new starter. Now, Shonn Miller, who is one of the best players in our league, is out for who knows how long.
"But we're a no-excuse program,'' Courtney said. "We don't have everybody we thought we would, but we've got enough to be good.''
Miller, Cancer and Peck figured to be Cornell's three best players. Miller would have been a candidate for the Ivy League's Player of the Year. Last year, he and Princeton's Ian Hummer were the only Ivy League players to rank in the league's top 10 for scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and steals. Miller, Cancer and Peck would have been
Courtney's version of the Big Red's Big Three of Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote and Louis Dale. In 2010, those three players were all named to the Ivy League's first team.
"Steve did an incredible job,'' Courtney said. "He had three of the best players in school history on one team. He did an absolutely remarkable job.''
The losses of Peck, Galal and (for the time being) Miller leaves Courtney with a young and inexperienced team. Courtney notes that he played over 1,100 minutes in his senior year at Bucknell, but there's not a single player on the Cornell roster with 700 career minutes played.
"It changes the dynamic of the team,'' Courtney said.
Cornell's amazing three-year run from 2008 to 2010 under Donahue was contrary to the program's history of hard-luck on the hardwood. Prior to 2008, Cornell's last Ivy League title had come in 1988. That was Cornell's only Ivy League championship until 2008.
Courtney, though, is not throwing in the towel on the season before it starts. He'll lean heavily on Gray and 6-4 sophomore Nolan Cressler. Incoming freshman Robert Hatter will get the bulk of the minutes at the point and Dwight Tarwater, a 6-6 senior, will help up front.
"We've got to pick ourselves off the mat,'' Courtney said. "I think you can be successful at Cornell. We can't worry about outside expectations. We hope to build the program and compete for a league title. We thought we had done that last year and were hoping to be there again this year. But we will get there.''

1 comment:

Tom C. said...

Doesn't seem like the article correctly characterized Peck's departure. In order to return, I'm assuming Peck would have had to leave school, not graduate and return like lax player Rob Pannell, since the Ivy League doesn't allow graduate students to play, not exactly "chose not to return for his senior season."