November 25, 2002

Talented Backcourt Leads Red

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On a team defined by its youth, the key term to describe the men’s basketball team’s backcourt is depth. Led by tri-captains senior Jacques Vigneault and junior Ka’Ron Barnes and last season’s second-leading scorer, sophomore Cody Toppert, the Red will feature a crowded rotation of eight competent guards who will anchor the young team.

“We are rather young,” said head coach Steve Donahue, “but one thing that they have going for them is they played substantial minutes last year. I’ve seen some growth already from last year to this year, and I think they have a chance to be a very solid backcourt.”

The team’s lone senior, Vigneault will be depended upon for his on-court leadership and ability to set the tone for the Red. Highly regarded for his work ethic, Vigneault is one of the best outside shooters in the Ivy League, compiling a 43 percent 3-point shooting percentage last year. Vigneault is the lone holdover on the team from former coach Scott Thompson, and will be looked upon to impart his experience on the team’s very young roster.

Barnes, the team’s only other upperclassman, is an extremely versatile player with the ability to create off the dribble and open up scoring chances for his teammates. A tenacious defender, Barnes will likely be looked upon to guard some of the league’s top scoring threats this year, including Penn’s Andrew Toole and Yale’s Alex Gamboa. Barnes is the team’s second leading returning scorer, averaging 8.6 points per game in 2001-02.

At 6-0, he is an excellent rebounder for a player of his size.

Coming off a fine rookie campaign, Toppert will be regarded as the Red’s top scoring option this season. After devoting his summer to becoming a stronger, quicker player, Toppert will hope to impress this season. An intense competitor with great rebounding prowess, Toppert will likely see a lot of time at small forward as well.

At the point, sophomore A.J. Castro will see a significant increase in playing time over last year. After averaging 6.5 points and 1.4 assists per game last year, Castro will be looked upon as the spark to the Red offense with his speed and intuitive court sense. He is a good ball handler and an excellent passer, capable of setting up plays and running the fast break or a half-court offense. He shot 41 percent from behind the arc last season, and despite his diminutive stature (he stands just 5-9), is able to score over much taller defenders.

Classmate Steve Cobb will also compete for time at point guard. An excellent athlete who made his presence known late last season, Cobb spent the summer improving his strength, which will play to his benefit this season. Cobb is an excellent rebounder and defender and has worked very hard in the off-season to improve his shooting. At 6-5, he will match up well with many of the best guards the Ancient Eight has to offer.

“Cobb, if he starts, enables me to play some smaller guys at the two or the three because he rebounds, he defends different players,” said Donahue.

Rounding out the Red’s corps of guards are freshmen Lenny Collins, Casey Gibbons, and David Lisle.

Collins is a versatile, athletic player who is capable of playing all five positions on the floor. He’s a consistent shooter and a quick defender and could prove to be an important contributor off the bench.

Gibbons is an excellent shooter who is equally adept from the perimeter or mid-range. During a postgraduate year at Phillips Exeter, he averaged 25.3 points per game with a 56 percent field goal percentage.

Lisle is a tough, scrappy player with superb defensive skills. A prototypical hustle-type player, Lisle has tremendous rebounding abilities. At 6-4, he will also see some time at forward.

“I think that it’s a great strength of our team that these guys are very competitive, and they’re very close in terms of talent,” said Donahue.

In all, the Red’s guards are a versatile, skilled group that should be able to achieve any number of objectives in all facets of the game, which will be crucial to the team’s success.

“One of the goals we have as a staff is to try to get guys who can do a lot of things,” said Donahue. “I think all these guys can play the system I want. They all can shoot the ball, they all can put it on the floor and see the open teammate, they all defend pretty well.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner