Saturday, December 6, 2014

News and Notes: Saturday Edition

Below, news and notes for Saturday...

Cornell guard Galal Cancer happy to be back in the foldGalal Cancer decided to step away from the Cornell men's basketball team last year to focus on his studies, but he's back and a big reason that the Big Red is vastly improved from a season ago.
Galal Cancer is confident that he did the right thing last year by stepping away from the Cornell men's basketball team to concentrate on his studies.
But the senior in the university's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences did have pangs of remorse while watching his brothers in red struggle.
"I don't want to say I regretted (my decision)," Cancer said. "The thing that hurt the most was watching the guys I came in with suffer through a season like that and knowing that I really could have helped."
Cornell suffered, indeed, winning just twice in 28 games without Cancer, along with leading scorer and first-team All-Ivy League forward Shonn Miller (shoulder injury). Additionally, 6-foot-9 reserve swingman Deion Giddens missed the last half of the season with a knee injury.
There was nothing Cancer, a 6-2 shooting guard from Albany, could do about last season, but in the spring he vowed to make a difference this year — for the good of the team.
"That was one of things, in talking with him about his coming back, that was huge for me," CU head coach Bill Courtney said. "It was about the team, it wasn't about him."
The returns of Cancer and Miller have made a huge difference thus far for Cornell (4-4), which will look to move above .500 on Saturday when the Red hosts America East foe Massachusetts Lowell (6-2). The 4 p.m. tip-off at Newman Arena is the Red's final game before a two-week exam break.
The action will begin at 2 p.m. with the CU women's team (3-4) taking on Bryant University (6-1).
The 6-foot-7 Miller is leading the men's squad at 13.3 points per game, with Cancer next at 12.0 ppg. to go along with 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 80 percent (32-for-40) foul shooting. Cancer said the time away from the game was put to good use, both academically and basketball-wise.
"I was able to catch up on schoolwork, and I also watched a lot of basketball," he said. "And I've been able to apply the things that I saw when I was away. And it's really helped us out so far, now I'm just trying to return as a leader and help this group of young guys we have coming up."
Courtney, who made it clear to Cancer that he had to earn his way back onto the team, is ecstatic at having Cancer in the fold again.
"Shonn and Devin (Cherry, senior point guard) have been great leaders as captains," he said, "but Galal has been phenomenal also with his leadership and helping the younger guys. He's the ultimate 'glue' guy, except that he's a really good player, too."
A point guard in high school and in his first two seasons at Cornell, Cancer has moved over to shooting guard this year, and has improved his 3-point shot markedly. He ranks second on the team with 42.1 percent efficiency in limited attempts (8-for-19) from beyond the arc. It's just one of the ways he feels his game has changed since he stepped away.
"I think I'm more patient and more relaxed than I was," he said. "When I first met with coach (about coming back), I told him I'm a lot more confident in my shot than I was, and I think it's showing with my 3-point percentage as of now."
Cancer spoke to Courtney after last season about the prospect of returning, and Courtney gave him a list of things he had to do in order to gain readmittance, and to regain everyone's trust.
"Absolutely, and he did that right away," Courtney said. "He went to his teammates and talked to them about it, and then he came and talked to me about it. We went through a few months of things he had to do in order to show that he really wanted to be a member of this team. And he did them all, he exceeded all of my expectations with the things he did."
Courtney didn't get into the specifics of what those tasks were, only that they were both basketball- and non-basketball-related. Cancer did everything he was asked to do and was rewarded by Courtney and his mates, including fellow seniors Miller and Cherry, with whom Cancer has roomed ever since he arrived on East Hill.
"He's showing us that he wants to be a part of this team," Miller said, "no matter if it was the role he's in now, or if he was the last man on the bench. He just wanted to be part of the program. And he's a likeable guy, everybody just loves him."
"Everybody welcomed me back with open arms," Cancer said. "That made the transition a bit easier. I also had to prove to Coach that I didn't regress from what I was, and I think I did a good job of doing that."
Courtney agrees wholeheartedly with that assessment.
"Since he's been back, he's exceeded all of my expectations for a guy who's basically sat out for a year and a half of competitive basketball," Courtney said. "That's a hard thing to do, and he's been terrific."
UMass Lowell won its sixth straight on Wednesday night, holding of New Jersey Institute of Technology, 71-67, at Lowell's Costello Athletic Center. Redshirt-freshman Jahad Thomas led the way with 20 points; he's the River Hawks' leading scorer at 15.9 points per game.

Cornell basketball
Saturday's games
Women: Bryant (6-1, 0-0 Northeast Conf.) at Cornell (3-4, 0-0 Ivy League), 2 p.m., Newman Arena
Men: UMass Lowell (6-2, 0-0 America East) at Cornell (4-4, 0-0 Ivy League), 4 p.m., Newman Arena (The Buzzer, 98.7)
 Red Looks to Extend Win Streak
With some excitement surrounding the Cornell men’s basketball program again, the Red looks to extend its win streak to three on Saturday when it welcomes UMass Lowell (6-2) to Newman Arena. After dropping three games at the Charleston Classic, the Red rebounded with wins against Canisius and Binghamton to secure consecutive wins for the first time since February, 2013. The Red has put an emphasis on defense and utilizing its experience, both of which are major parts of the identity that the team is forming.
This gradual formation of a true identity has been a big plus for the squad. It is clear that the Red is heavily dependent on the backcourt for offensive production, with guards Galal Cancer, Robert Hatter and Devin Cherry combining to average 34.4 points per game, more than half of the team’s overall average. However, the maturation of sophomore forward David Onuorah, along with the return of senior forward Shonn Miller, has given the Red an evenly balanced attack both offensively and defensively.
On the defensive end, the Red leads the Ivy League in opponents field goal percentage (37.3%) and defensive rebounds per game (27.6). While those numbers did take a hit against the top competition at the Charleston Classic, since its return, the Red has done well to play solid team defense. After allowing guards Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina), D.J. Newbill (Penn State) and Damion Lee (Drexel) to pick apart the Red defense for a combined 68 points in Charleston, the squad has come back with a balanced defensive attack focused on playing suffocating defense for a full game, according to head coach Bill Courtney.
“We didn’t play a full 40 minutes of hard defense in Charleston, but we have been able to improve on that in these past couple games,” Courtney said.
Another factor that has proven to be a significant advantage for the Red thus far is the versatility of its roster. With a guy like Miller who can stretch the floor with his shooting ability and battle inside, the Red has the ability to compete against a myriad of defenses. With three guards who can explode for 20 points a game on any given night in Cancer, Cherry and Hatter, along with the improvement of sophomore guard Darryl Smith, the Red has the unique ability to defer scoring to a variety of players throughout a game.
“Our guys understand their roles and have been executing game plans well. We have been getting the ball into the right hands, and stepping up in the second half,” Courtney said.
Being able to defer offensive production, coupled with some multi-faceted offensive players is a valuable asset for a Cornell team that will look to turn heads throughout the season, especially against top-notch squads like Syracuse, a team that plays the legendary and unique 2-3 defense. Teams who rely heavily on one player for offensive production often become exposed very early in the season. Courtney said that the work of the bench combined with some veteran leadership has made for an attack that can fire from all cylinders without relying on starpower. The Red currently has four players averaging double figures.
“We have started slow in the first half a few times, but our bench and experienced guys have kept us going by stepping up as the game progresses,” Courtney said.
Looking at Saturday’s matchup with UMass-Lowell, the Red has to contend with another guard heavy lineup. The top three scorers for the River Hawks are all guards, led by sophomore Jahad Thomas who is averaging just shy of 16 points per game. The Red holds a major size advantage, with seven players 6’7” or taller, while the Red Hawks only have one.
With the senior big man trio of Deion Giddens, Ned Tomic and Dave LaMore showing leadership and control in the past two games, they, along with Miller and Onuorah, should be heavily targeted. Regardless of their lack of size in the frontcourt, the River Hawks have managed to win six straight games since dropping their first two to start the season, and the Red has the opportunity to snap that streak.
The River Hawks should not be overlooked, as they bring a unique offense and quick defense to the table. If the Red can replicate the solid defense it has featured for the last two games and utilize its size, the squad will be in a good position to remain undefeated at home and extend its win streak to three games.
I first saw Jeff Foote play basketball at Spencer-Van Etten when he was in his early teens, and I actually felt bad for the kid. He was so tall and gangly that he seemed unfamiliar with his own ever-changing body, and his obviously sharp mind often seemed frustrated that his arms and legs and hands were not keeping up with the commands being sent. Don Foote, Jeff’s dad, had played college basketball at Niagara University—as had Jeff’s older brother, Jesse (at RIT)—but I had my doubts that he would follow in their (size 16) footsteps. As a matter of fact, in 2006 I made the second of two predictions that I would later admit exposed me as a profoundly poor prognosticator.
The first of those predictions came in 1983. I was at a party at Cornell, and someone put on a song called “Borderline.” I asked, “Who sings this song?” I was told that the artist was someone named Madonna. I replied, “In two years, nobody will remember her.” Spot on, eh?
In 2006, I was in the Big M supermarket in Spencer (it is a Medium M at best), and a friend said, “Did you hear that Jeff Foote is transferring to Cornell (from St. Bonaventure, where he redshirted as a freshman) and he’ll be on the basketball team!” I knew that Jeff’s experience at St. Bonaventure had been a frustrating one, and I said, “He might do okay off the bench, but he’ll never be a starter at the Division 1 level.” 
Three years later, Kansas’ coach Bill Self said, after the Big Red damn near beat the mighty Jayhawks at home, “Cornell has a big man that can play with anyone in the country.” Foote did play with anyone in the country, and he led the Big Red to three Ivy League Championships and an unforgettable appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Again, my predictive prowess was pitiful. 
After that magical Sweet Sixteen run, Jeff played professionally in Europe—signing a three year contract with Euroleague giants Maccabi Tel Aviv. He played in Spain, came back to the U.S. to play in the NBA’s Development League, and actually played briefly for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA. 
Given that I live in the Spencer-Van Etten school district, and I sometimes joked with Jeff that my tax dollars got him to where he was, it was an amazing experience to watch him play in the NBA. His time in the league was brief, but he got there. He then played more D-League ball and did another stint in Europe, but the time has come for Jeff to turn the page. 
I reached out to Foote over the weekend, and he said, “I can’t do a phone interview now, because I am studying for finals.” I asked him to clarify, and he later wrote, “I am at the University of Miami, I am a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team here while I attend law school as well. The finals I am prepping for are for law school.”
I asked Jeff to tell me the biggest difference so far between playing and coaching, and he replied, “The biggest difference is the mental aspect versus the physical. Coaching deals with emotions of players, strategy, opponents, all from a mental aspect. Playing was similar, but it wasn’t my job to formulate the strategy.”
Having seen Foote’s dramatic transformation from a good high school player to a dominant Division 1 big man to a solid pro, I knew he was a keen student of the game. His physical transformation was astounding, as he went from 215 to 265 pounds (while adding 5 inches to his vertical jump!!!), but his mental and emotional growth was just as impressive. His footwork and passing skills were visibly better every year, and by the time he was a senior, he could, as Bill Self stated, “play with anyone in the country.” 
Because I know that Jeff was mentored by Steve Donahue—whose basketball IQ is off the charts—I have no doubt that Foote will be a fine coach … or attorney … or sports agent … 
As you may have guessed, I have given up on offering predictions.
Cornell Men's Basketball Starts Season Well
After last year’s 2-26 basketball season, the Cornell men's basketball team did not have much momentum leading into the 2014-15 season. Surprisingly, the men’s basketball team is off to a 4-4 start. So far the team has earned wins against George Mason University, Colgate University, Canisius College, and Binghamton University. The team’s good start is no surprise to fifth-year head coach Bill Courtney, “We knew just by looking at our group that we’d have a much more talented group.” Courtney also had this to say, "I don't think anybody on our team is surprised that we're 4-4. I think they're probably surprised that we're not 6-2, to be honest, or even 7-1. Our group expected that, expected to have success, and it's good where we're at, but we can see our improvement every day and hope that can just continue." Hopefully Courtney’s team can maintain this trajectory to a winning season. The team’s next game will is on December 6th at Cornell against the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
  • NBC Charlotte has some highlights of Cornell commit, Matt Morgan from his team's, Cox Mill High School (North Carolina), heartbreaking defeat to Robinson.


BigRed1965 said...

1) Nice to hear about Jeff Foote's current exploits and achievements. It is clear he will be a success in his new endeavors, given his tremendous ability to apply himself in all his efforts.
2) Galal Cancer has added strength and stability with his return. Everyone was looking to Shonn Miller's return, which has been vindicated, but Cancer adds so much on his own.

Anonymous said...

This team is starting to play well together with everyone finding their role either by design or by necessity. When the starters come out I am really impressed with the production we are getting from not just the backcourt reserves but the front court reserves. Ned and Lamore are giving us a great boost for the time they come in. Tomic seems to be able to get his shot off down low and rebound strong.

This team is slowly coming together and when they start taking care of the ball better we will get even more opportunity on the offensive end.

So BigRed, get your rest, study and have great success in your finals. The road is going to get a little tougher on the court but I suspect, hope and pray everybody will step their game up because this is a wonderful team with talent throughout the lineup.

Let's go BigRed!!!!!!!!!