Wednesday, November 12, 2014

News and Notes: Wednesday Edition

 Below, news and notes...

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WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Patriot Center, Fairfax, Va.
SERIES RECORD: First Meeting
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The George Mason men's basketball team officially tips-off the season on Friday welcoming Cornell as the second part of a doubleheader with the women's team. The Patriots and Big Red meet for the first time in program history on Friday.

Mason closed out preseason play on Saturday, hosting Shenandoah in an exhibition contest at the Patriot Center. The Patriots routed the Hornets, 91-51, behind six players in double-figures, including redshirt sophomore Jalen Jenkins who tossed up 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.

Last season, Cornell posted a 2-26 overall record and 1-13 Ivy League mark. The Big Red were tabbed to finish eighth in the Ivy League preseason poll and returns the senior tandem of Shonn Miller and Galal Cancer who both missed last season. Cornell has posted a 17-23 all-time record when competing against members of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
  • Cornell's recruiting class of 2015 includes so far:
    • The Star Ledger mentions Donovan Wright's commitment to Cornell as today is national signing day.  The Charlotte Observer mentions Matt Morgan as one of the five players to watch in the area and notes, "Matt Morgan, Cox Mill, 6-3, Sr., G: Led Cox Mill to its second straight South Piedmont 3A tournament title. Committed to Cornell. Averaged 25.4 points and 4.5 assists.

      Read more here:"
    • Onward State remembers Pat Chambers' first season as head coach of Penn State and the Lions' "tough" win over Cornell. 
    Cornell Big Red
    Last Season: 2-26, 1-13 Ivy
    Coach: Bill Courtney, 5th season, 37-78, 19-37 Ivy
    Ivy League Media Poll predicted finish: 8th
    Last Ivy League Title: 2009-2010
    Will win if: Senior forward Shonn Miller shakes off his injury-lost 2013-14 and returns to his All-Ivy form, while the rest of the Big Red’s young core outperforms expectations
    Will lose if: Their league-worst offense and defense rear their ugly heads, just like they did last season.
    Last year vs. Penn: The Quakers swept the season series between last season's two bottom-dwellers, beating the Big Red, 90-83, at the Palestra behind 27 points from Hicks before triumphing in a lower-scoring 69-65 affair in Ithaca.
    Cornell Season Preview – “They’re Bad,” But How Bad?
    It’s that time of the year. The leaves are changing colors, the Jets’ season is hopelessly lost, and gym floors everywhere are echoing with the sound of squeaking feet and whistles that have been missing for way too long. It’s the season of previews, where the optimists shine and everyone still has a chance.
    Everyone except for Cornell, at least if you ask assistant coaches around the league.
    “They’re bad. Pretty simply put, they’re bad.”
    “Cornell is in trouble.”
    “[I] just don’t see them winning many more games than last year.”
    These are among the flattering remarks anonymous Ivy League assistant coaches dispensed about the Big Red in City of Basketball Love‘s “Coaches’ Thoughts” Ivy season preview. The media wasn’t any more impressed as the Big Red were projected to finish last in the preseason media poll by an overwhelming margin.
    I get it. Coming off of a 2-26 season with only one Division I win, it’s hard not to automatically slot Cornell at the bottom of the pack. The climb up from the bottom is never as swift as the fall from the top and the Red haven’t done anything to prove that they are more capable than a season ago.
    Still, as painful as last season was and as bleak as most season previews read, it’s not all bad for Cornell. Coming off of a season with the lowest win total in the program’s 68-year history, the only thing I can confidently say about this team is that we’ll see improvement. Improvement! It almost has to happen for Bill Courtney and his squad, but the question is, how much? No one is going to confuse the Red with a title contender, but one thing Courtney now has is experience throughout his roster. Courtney’s Big Three – Shonn Miller, Galal Cancer and Devin Cherry – are battle-tested and will have to be relied on heavily if opponents are going to worry more about the basketball team than the weather when they travel to Ithaca.
    Miller’s return could arguably have the biggest impact of any addition in the entire league. In Miller’s sophomore season, his last on the floor, he led the Red in scoring, steals, blocks and minutes played. Despite missing the final four games due to a shoulder injury that would keep him sidelined the entirety of his junior season, Miller was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy player. There isn’t another player in the league who can change the game at both ends of the floor the way Miller can. I fully expect Miller to return to his All-Ivy form quickly, and his presence will do wonders for Cornell’s frontcourt. David Onuorah and Deion Giddens were asked to do too much last season. With Miller on the floor, Courtney can mix and match the rest of his bigs and play the hot hand. I expect Onuorah and Giddens to be the guys early on, but a healthy Braxston Bunce, an improving Dave LaMore and uber-talented freshman Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof could play a role in shaping this Cornell team.
    The backcourt is what will make or break the Red. Devin Cherry has been through it all and can do it all in this league. He ranked in the top 20 in scoring, rebounds and assists and became Cornell’s go-to offensive weapon by the end of last season. Pair him with veteran hand Galal Cancer, who averaged more than 20 minutes per game his freshman and sophomore seasons before taking a one-year hiatus with the team, and Cornell will have guys handling the ball who have been there. But a crucial piece ventured 836 miles south. Nolan Cressler’s departure leaves a gaping hole in Cornell’s offensive attack. Cherry and Cancer are fearless and can get in the lane as well as any Ivy guard, but when they’re on the floor together, Cornell’s attack becomes one-dimensional. Cherry and Cancer both have career three-point shooting percentages south of 30 percent, and without Cressler (a career 38 percent three-point shooter) on the wing, Cornell’s guards will struggle to find the driving lanes they’re accustomed to.
    What Courtney will have to rely on is the emergence of one of his young guards. Robert Hatter can flat out sling the basketball, but inconsistency plagued him as a freshman. Darryl Smith really came on at the end of his freshman campaign, averaging 25 minutes per game in his last 10 contests. Smith, not known for his ability to shoot the long ball, has nevertheless shown poise beyond his years. Freshman Pat Smith could be Cornell’s best option to replace Cressler’s production. Smith shot more than 50 percent from the field, including 42 percent from deep in his senior season at Archbishop Wood Catholic High School. Smith will undoubtedly have an adjustment period as a freshman, but if he can shoot anywhere near the rate he did in high school, Courtney will have no choice but to find him minutes.
    “They’re pretty bad. Pretty simply put, they’re bad.” The quote is worth repeating. But how well do these preseason evaluations hold up? Last season, Penn was picked to finish second in the preseason media poll and instead finished seventh. Columbia was slated to finish last and instead finished third. No, I don’t expect Cornell to contend for a title this season – there’s a limit to my optimism. But my point is that talk is just talk and everything, including my own words, is meaningless once the ball is thrown up for the first time. It’s put up or shut up time for Bill Courtney and his crew. Let’s see what happens.
    Starting in May of this year, there was a new presence within Penn basketball as Quakers alumnus Nat Graham joined Jerome Allen’s staff as a new assistant coach.
    And with Graham came a new buzzword: Tremendous.
    “When I was here, any time you asked [former Penn coach Fran] Dunphy , ‘How are you doing, coach?’ He would look at you and go, 'Tremendous’ and be really intense about it,” Graham said. “That stuck with me for so long and I think it’s funny, so I say that to everyone, whether it is around basketball or not.”
    That may stick out as weird to some, but the players have embraced what Graham has brought to the table with his positive attitude.
    “Coming from Cornell and then Boston College, he brings a very good atmosphere around him,” senior captain Patrick Lucas-Perry said. “He’s always positive. He knows what to say and how to really touch some players.”
    “He’s awesome,” fellow senior captain Camryn Crocker added. “Ever since the first day that he stepped in, he has fit right in with the rest of the coaches.”
    As Lucas-Perry mentioned, Graham came from Cornell and Boston College, where he was Steve Donahue’s top assistant. Graham helped Donahue win three straight Ivy League titles with the Big Red before moving to BC. He also played for Penn from 1993-1995, winning two Ivy titles at Penn.
    “With Nat within our league, it is documented what he has accomplished as a coach at Cornell and as a player [at Penn],” Allen said. “He brings a unique perspective in terms of how to foster a winning culture.”
    But after the Eagles went 8-24 a year ago, Graham found himself without a job. As a husband and father of three kids, finding a new position was a necessity.
    Graham called his former teammate and current Penn assistant Ira Bowman shortly after seeing that Scott Pera had left the Quakers for a top assistant job at Rice. From there, Graham knew he likely had the job before it became official and was able to transition into his new position relatively easily.
    “It has kind of been a seamless transition in terms of recruiting and respecting the student-athletes in this league,” Allen said.
    Once he was hired, Graham immediately hit the recruiting trail since that often dominates the late spring and early summer for college programs. After looking into possible late recruits for the 2014 class, he began helping the Quakers fill out their next few recruiting classes.
    At the same time, the former Cornell assistant began looking into his new players and what he could do to help the Quakers improve on their 8-20 finish from last year.
    “I watched film. I watched a lot of games from last year early just to get a feel for the way Penn was playing and for the guys on the team,” Graham said.
    “More than the rest of the guys here, I’m probably a little into the analytics and the stats, trying to figure out what was good and what was bad.”
    Penn’s new assistant had just come from a school that had graduate assistants committed to helping with advanced statistics and a coach (Donahue) that was also interested in their application.
    But Graham also doesn’t believe that statistics are the answer to everything and now works on a staff with Allen who doesn’t use analytics quite as much.
    On the court during practice, Graham is still trying to find his footing after being Donahue’s top assistant for a long time.
    “A lot of times Ira will take the bigs and Mike [Lintulahti] will take the not-bigs. I had always been the bigs guy so I would go with Ira but Ira has got his thing really down,” Graham said. “That’s been different for me because I was Steve Donahue’s right-hand man for so long. I knew exactly what he was doing all the time.”
    But despite the transition, the players are receptive to what he has brought to practice.
    “He’s been real approachable for us,” Crocker said. “He definitely has a different style than some of the other coaches but he’s definitely encouraging and trying to get the most out of us.”
    And with a just a few months under his belt, fans will get to see whether Graham’s impact lives up to his favorite word: Tremendous.
    For many of us, men’s basketball will have a new face on the sideline this season in Head Coach Kevin App. App, however, is no stranger himself to Williamstown or to the Eph coaching staff, beginning his coaching career as an assistant to former Head Coach Mike Maker during the 2008-09 season. After graduating from Cornell in 2007 with a civil engineering degree, App bounced from Williams back to his alma mater and then to West Point, where he spent the past four seasons as an assistant under Head Coach Zach Spiker.
    “The one season I spent at Williams was unbelievable,” Coach App said. “This place left an impression on me after 14 months here and when the job opened up this summer, I knew I absolutely wanted it.” Coach App cherishes the relationships he made during his brief stint in Williamstown, including meeting his future wife and developing a close relationship with the entire Eph roster and coaching staff.
    Expectations for a Williams program that has made the NCAA Div. III Final Four in three of the last five seasons are very high, and App recognizes that “it’s tough to change a lot after a team comes two seconds away from a National Championship.” It is no coincidence that App and Maker have very similar philosophies and approaches to the game of basketball.
    Coach App is connected to an impressive pedigree of coaches spanning across all divisions of the NCAA that includes Maker, Spiker, Cornell Head Coach Steve Donahue and, indirectly, Michigan Head Coach John Beilein. As an assistant under the tutelage of Maker, Donahue and Spiker, App cited how fortunate he was to be given so much responsibility at a young age. “I was a voice on the floor and was able to be an authority figure and teacher,” he said. While the transition from assistant to head coach will be a noticeable change, his mentors have instilled in him a great basketball philosophy and intelligence.
    Coach App considers Maker one of his biggest mentors and best friends,and is confident in his ability to bring continuity to the successful Eph basketball program. “We both believe in an aesthetically pleasing selfless, skill-based basketball where everyone on the floor can dribble, pass and shoot,” App said.
    Yet, despite their many similarities in style of play, their coaching styles differ. “I like to teach quick, play quick and learn quickly from mistakes.”
    App seeks to reinforce the pillars of Eph basketball: trust, selflessness, balance and appreciation. “We feel we have the opportunity to compete for a National Championship every year, and we appreciate that,” he noted. Yet, App is committed to not letting the winning culture at Williams be a burden and is instead focused on imploring his players to enjoy every second of it.
    Asked if he feels any pressure, App admitted to some internal pressure before adding that pressure is normal and healthy as a competitor. “Staring at these trophies in my office everyday, that’s fun for me. That’s enjoyable,” App remarked. “That’s one part of why this job is so special, but it even more has to do the young guys whom I’m fortunate enough to teach.”
    App praised his senior tri-captains Dan Wohl ’15, Hayden Rooke-Ley ’15 and Ryan Kilcullen ’15 for their leadership and making his transition as smooth as possible. With only two weeks from the start of practice to the first game, App has been emphasizing togetherness and learning on the go in his quick-paced style of play.
    App plans to use the team’s speed and pace on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Ephs will remain in the familiar four outside, one inside arrangement that focuses on selfless, quick passing to create open looks. On the other side of the ball, App plans to primarily play man-to-man due to the elite level of individual defense demonstrated by his team. “I know we rode a 2-3 zone to the National Championship game last year, but we’re an athletic team that can guard the ball one-on-one on the perimeter,” App remarked. “I think that’s how we’re going to be the most successful this year to start.”
    Returning to Williams, App uniquely recognizes the tradition of Williams’s basketball and is poised to continue its winning ways, while shaping the lives of bright young men. The Ephs open their 2014-15 season on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Chandler Gymnasium.


    Anonymous said...

    Blog, enjoying the custom posters! Did you make them or did Cornell athletics?

    T-48 hours! The road to the Final Four (top of the Ivy League) begins soon :)

    The Cornell Basketball Blog said...

    Neither, the assistant coaches made them from the program.