At the time when freshman center Chris Vandenberg was sidelined by a knee injury just three games into the men’s basketball season, he was poised to be the much-needed authoritative defensive presence that the Red had been lacking. He would have also given the cagers the advantage of having one of the biggest low post players in the Ivy League.
Sans Vandenberg, wins have been hard to come by for the young Cornell squad — which has arguably logged more playing time for freshmen than any of its Ancient Eight brethren. The Canadian big man grabbed 19 rebounds in his first three games on the Hill with 6.3 points per game to boot. If he continued on that trend, he would have currently sat at fourth in the Ancient Eight in boards per game.
Standing a towering 6’10”, Vandenberg — who played for the Canadian Junior National Team — caused some serious eyebrow raising in his first game, blocking seven shots. No one in the Ivies has logged more rejections in a single game all season.
Head coach Steven Donahue has been able to split time between the duo of rookie Eric Taylor and veteran junior Randy Gabler to fill the spot vacated by Vandenberg. The pair has been a solid replacement, combining to average 8.5 ppg.
“Randy and Eric stepped up and played well for us,” senior point guard Wallace Prather said.
Added Donahue, “When you look at what Randy and Eric have done, they’ve done a very good job.”
Despite the commendable efforts of his substitutes, Vandenberg has been sorely missed.
“We don’t have his shot blocking ability. He would have given us easy baskets. He brings us great presence on defense and gives us the ability to run the floor,” Donahue said.
The loss of his force on the glass has also been a woe for the Red, which has allowed more rebounds than any team in the league (38.1). Princeton, tops in the category, has given up just 27.5 rebounds per game.
The freshman has been making a steady recovery and is expected to be able to return to the court for live action in about a month.
“He was operated on before Christmas and was casted for a while,” Donahue said, discussing Vandenberg’s progress. “He was running and jumping in mid-January and now his range of motion is close to one hundred percent.”
Vandenberg indicated that has muscle has healed and that his current regimen is focused on regaining mass.
“It hurts for it to happen. I got three games in and I was all excited to play,” the freshman lamented.
Despite the setback, the Red remains optimistic about its chances next season.
“Eric and Randy have been spending a lot of time in the weight room. The three of us will be hard to beat next year,” Vandenberg asserted.
Archived article by Gary Schueller