November 16, 2001

Backcourt Lends Experience

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The 2001-02 edition of the men’s basketball team has a 13-player roster. Just six of those 13 have ever played a college game. Four of those six are guards. On a team that features a majority of freshmen, the backcourt will be a beacon of experience in a sea of greenness.

“I think the guards have to provide leadership,” senior guard and co-captain Wallace Prather stated. “We have that burden on our back of being the people the freshmen look up to.”

Prather and fellow senior co-caption Pete Carroll are the only fourth-year players on the squad. Sophomore Ka’Ron Barnes is the leading returning scorer with 10.3 points per game last season. Junior Jacques Vigneault rounds out the returnees.

Prather and Barnes represent the biggest pieces of the backcourt puzzle. Prather has the chance to make some more Cornell history after setting the freshman scoring record three years ago with a 332-point season. The 5-9 point guard sits 136 points shy of the 1,000 point mark, which only 16 Red players have reached. He also needs just 13 steals to topple the school career record of 155.

Prather, one of the most competitive players in the league, can turn up his game — he led the team in steals, minutes per game, assists per game and three-point shooting percentage last year.

“I want to have the mentality this year that if I’m open, I’m gonna make the shot,” Prather said. “And you can’t leave me open, or it’s going to be too late.”

Barnes will play a big part in the offense again this season after leading all Ivy League freshmen in scoring last year. A 6-0 combo guard, he led the team in blocked shots and total assists last season.

Carroll will be a key figure off the bench, as his experience and knowledge of the offense will be useful in clutch situations. He started a couple of games last season and averaged nearly five minutes a game. Carroll will also play an important role in helping to bring the freshmen along in the program.

“The coach can count on me in practice and games for solid and consistent effort and to try to help some of the younger players get used to playing in college,” he explained.

Vigneault should help the team again this season as a steady three-point threat off the bench. Despite playing only seven minutes per game last season, he placed fifth on the team in threes hit. He will likely see his role augmented from being just a pure three-point specialist. During his Cornell career, he has attempted only three field goals from inside the arc.

The backcourt is rounded out by three freshmen: Cody Toppert, A.J. Castro, and Steve Cobb.

“All of them bring something different to the table,” Prather said. “I think each freshman is going to help us this year, is going to provide some aspect of the game, going to make us better.”

The promising freshman class of guards is led by Toppert, who will probably see the most minutes out of his classmates.

“Cody’s playing very well, and I expect him to play,” Donahue noted. “He’s a competitor, he knows how to play. I think he’s someone that we’re looking to play some minutes early on.”

At 5-9, Castro isn’t the most imposing presence on the court, but his athleticism more than makes up for his small stature. The point guard was an all-state selection in his home state of Florida last season.

“While he’s diminutive, he’s very quick,” Carroll praised. “He adds another element of quickness and being able to penetrate.”

Cobb will also see his share of minutes. At 6-4, he is a marksman from three-point range and can play solid defense.

“Steve Cobb has a lot of basketball savvy. He studies the game fanatically,” Carroll observed.

The freshmen all have potential and clearly represent a strong class that will be the backbone of the team in years to come. However, this year they will have to feel their way into the system.

“How soon they acclimate themselves to the college game, with the athleticism and the strength that they’ll have to go against, will determine how much they play and how much they help us,” Donahue said.

While each guard in the program has different attributes that he brings to the floor, they all will be attempting to follow the advice of their captain, Wallace Prather, who described their goal as, “Trying to be the most consistent and most dominating guard on the court on offense and on defense.”

Archived article by Alex Fineman