November 14, 2008

The Fearsome Foursome

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It’s easy to lump generic platitudes onto the captains of any sports team. What’s hard is to actually get at the core of what makes each captain a leader. Each of this year’s four basketball captains brings a unique leadership style to this year’s squad.
While it is not infrequent for seniors to be named captain, it is rare that an entire senior class of more than two or three members all get the title of captain.
“I was kind of surprised,” said senior co-captain Conor Mullen. “But it’s kind of fitting because we’ve all been together all four years. We’re all real close knit.”
Mullen and his classmates, Brian Kreefer, Adam Gore and Jason Battle, comprise the first substantial senior class in awhile to experience nothing but winning during their Cornell careers. They also will be entering essentially their second year of leadership.
“When we lost that group of [four] seniors two years ago, us four seniors that we have now had to be more vocal leaders because we couldn’t do that with just [Jason Hartford ’08] last year,” Kreefer said. “We’re kind of just continuing on what we did last year.”
Each of the captains has his own leadership style. Even as an underclassman, for example, teammates saw Battle’s personality as more befitting an overzealous gym rat.
“I think with J Battle, he’s always been the most vocal of us four,” Mullen said. “He’s like an old man, always talking. He talks like he’s playing down at the YMCA. Talking on defense, coaches love that.”
Mullen himself has been more of a behind-the-scenes leader, logging the least playing time of the four. Head coach Steve Donahue speaks highly of Mullen’s unselfish, team-first mentality.
“He is, I think, our leader in a lot of ways,” Donahue said. “I think guys really respect him. … Every time he’s given an opportunity, he has played well. … His attitude is, ‘If coach feels this guy is better, then I’m going to help our team by doing whatever I can to make us better.’ He’s a leader in the locker room. He’s a leader in practice.”
Kreefer, like Battle, has been a consistent contributor off the bench the last few years — he may be king of the intangibles, always finding a way to spread the floor with the occasional 3, finish around the basket, rebound, defend and do whatever the coaches ask of him.
“Brian Kreefer knows how to play,” Donahue said. “He knows what we want.”
Gore is the sole All-Ivy player in the bunch. His career has been marred by two ACL tears, however, and he missed all of his sophomore year. His most recent ACL tear will keep him out at least until January.
“As far as Gore goes, it’s going to be a little different,” Mullen said. “… I’m sure when he comes back, he’ll be more vocal.”
For the first time in a generation, though, this group is charged with the task of defending an Ivy League title for Cornell.
“It’s definitely a different feeling,” Kreefer said, “because we went undefeated last year and we won’t be satisfied with anything but being undefeated again.”