Any team that wants to win on a consistent basis has to control the interior. For the men’s basketball team this season, that task will be doubly difficult since the frontline is composed of junior Jake Rohe and a lot of question marks. How those questions are answered will determine the team’s fate. Fortunately for head coach Steve Donahue, he seems to have an abundance of talent and enthusiasm to work with.
Cornell is set at the small forward position with the team’s lone returning starting frontcourt player, Rohe. The scrappy 6-6 forward from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., was fourth on the team in scoring (7.7 PPG), second in rebounding (5.6 RPG), and first in floor-burns last year. He was the only Red player to start all of the team’s 27 games last season and is expected to do the same this year. In addition to his rugged inside game, he will incorporate more of an outside presence.
Donahue noted, “Rohe is someone who is real active and tries to play the game hard all the time.”
While Donahue has not settled on Rohe’s supporting cast, he does not have a shortage of talented players to choose from. The most athletic of the bunch is the tallest timber on the squad, freshman Chris Vandenberg. The prized 6-10 recruit gives Cornell an imposing defensive presence as well as a legitimate low-post scoring threat.
“Chris Vandenberg just brings great athleticism and length,” Donahue said. “He blocks shots and runs the floor. He can compete against anybody we play against athletically, including those big schools.”
On the very first possession of the Red-White scrimmage, the rookie gave Cornell fans a glimpse of his remarkable ability, with a two handed alley-oop off a lob from sophomore Ka’Ron Barnes. Vandenberg, member of the Canadian Junior National team, went on to pour in a game high 14 points in his Red debut.
“I’m still pretty raw on that [post position], but now I’m working on some moves,” Vandenberg analyzed. “I’m getting some classic shots and then going from there.”
Sharing time in the middle with Vandenberg will be the team’s other returning forward, junior Randy Gabler. The 6-9 center is finally coming into his own physically and has improved in every aspect of his game. After playing a limited role last season, he can expect to see a significant jump in minutes this year.
“He’s the most improved player since I’ve gotten here,” Donahue praised. “He’s worked tremendously on his body. He’s a much better athlete and much better conditioned.”
While there is no definitive starter at the center position, Donahue is confident that his two big men can hold the fort. He assured, “I feel really good about that combo.”
The freshmen trio of Grant Harrell, Eric Taylor, and Gabe Stevenson will also see plenty of action up front. Each brings a unique style to the game, and will spark the Red with his skill.
Harrell is a small 6-6 forward who made his long-range potency abundantly clear in the Red-White scrimmage, stroking two from downtown. His good outside touch will surely help a Red squad that shot just 30 percent from behind the arc last year.
“He is an excellent standstill three-point shooter. He’s got great range and good size. [He’s] an excellent athlete and long,” Donahue said.
Taylor will bring toughness on defense and the glass. At 6-7, 220, he has the size to hold his own in the paint.
In Donahue’s words, “Eric Taylor is a banger.”
Although injured at the moment, rookie Gabe Stephenson will also make an impact. He combines the attributes of both Harrell and Taylor. He is wiry and athletic, but also tall enough (6-8) to defend the block.
“Gabe Stephenson is a good standstill shooter and rebounds well, but he’s inexperienced,” Donahue said.
The challenge for these six men will be controlling the painted area with regularity. The Red was outrebounded on the defensive glass by nearly 100 grabs last season.
“That’s going to be our main issue and that’s going to determine our record. Whoever controls the boards is going to determine the games. That’s our biggest challenge,” Rohe said.
“I think they’re going to get rebounds, score on the block, and do a lot of little things,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in the big fellas that they’re going to help us a lot.”
Archived article by Alex Ip