Despite last year’s 5-22 finish, head coach Steve Donahue is optimistic that 2002-03 will witness a Cornell basketball renaissance. However, key injuries to the frontcourt threaten the Red’s ability to post an elusive winning season.
After struggling to match up physically against opponents last year, the Red emphasized a rigorous conditioning program.
If the frontcourt overcomes injury woes and takes advantage of its improved conditioning, the Red might reach the .500 mark for the first time since ’96-’97.
At 6-4, Cody Toppert is better suited to the two, but injuries have forced the sophomore to the three. As a freshman, Toppert averaged 10.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg. Donahue is excited about Toppert’s potential saying, “He had a tremendous off-season where he got bigger, stronger, and better. He works hard at his game and he’s confident — which is something I like, and it’s something we need.”
A small forward last year, 6-6 sophomore Grant Harrell has been moved to the four. After a freshman debut in which he averaged only 2.6 ppg and 2.3 rpg, Harrell will have to improve in all facets of the game. Despite his struggles, Harrell did display court vision and inspired defense.
“I have to, personally, improve in everything because I did not have a good year last year,” Harrell said.
6-8, 235 pound sophomore Eric Taylor will be the Red’s primary option in the post. As a freshman, Taylor averaged 5.5 ppg and 5.1 rpg, and will be asked to contribute significantly more this year.
Taylor’s emergence was a surprise last season, and he was selected the first sophomore captain in Cornell history. Donahue lauded the big man, saying, “He’s exceeded my expectations by a long shot at this point. I think he has a chance to be one of the best big men in the league, and I attribute that to all his hard work.”
6-7, 230 pound sophomore Kevin Farley will see significant time down low. Donahue assessed Farley saying, “He is someone who gives us some athleticism, quickness. He’s done everything and then some since he joined our team. He will be a very capable backup.”
Lenny Collins, a 6-6 freshman, might be the Red’s most versatile player. Donahue was impressed with Collins’ ability, saying, “Lenny is very versatile. He literally can play all five positions if he had to. He’ll be playing substantial minutes right away.”
Additionally, 6-4 freshman David Lisle will see some time off the bench at small forward, where he is a capable defender and rebounder.
6-10, 245-pound sophomore center Chris Vandenberg and 6-8 sophomore forward Gabe Stephenson are out indefinitely. Stephenson averaged 3.1 ppg and 3.9 rpg in 2001-02 and was slated to vie for significant minutes at power forward. If Vandenberg returns, the young center will provide a formidable presence inside.
“If Chris comes back, he will definitely improve us,” Donahue said. “His ability, especially defensively in our league, is special. He’s a special player because he can do so many things. He’ll get easy points on putbacks. He’ll block shots. He’ll intimidate a whole lot of easy shots.”
Archived article by Mark Fetzko