November 20, 2003

Why Can't We Ball With the Rest?

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Know where the biggest game on campus is this weekend? I’ll give you a hint; it’s neither at Schoellkopf nor Lynah. No, this game goes down Sunday at 3:00 pm at Newman Arena in Bartels Hall.

It’s the basketball team’s season opener against Georgia Tech. The contest is one of only two times this year an Ivy team will host an ACC opponent on its home court, and it opens up a season of potential for the Red. If there’s one game you go to this weekend, this is it.

Cornell will look to open its season with a win against a nationally known opponent in its own gym and start a journey it hopes will end with an Ivy Championship and an NCAA tournament berth.

There isn’t a better story on campus. An opponent from one of the best conferences in the nation, an up and coming Cornell team returning five starters from last season, a tough, charismatic team of underdogs looking for some real success, a beautiful gym, and free tickets for students. It all adds up to an almost unbeatable package, and it means Newman Arena should be hoppin’ Sunday afternoon.

“I think the environment will be real fun for a fan,” said head coach Steve Donahue.

Donahue and his players are convinced they can make Cornell a basketball school. It will just take some competitiveness, a little hype, and a few wins.

The coach knows how to do it. Donahue begins his fourth season at Cornell with an experienced line-up he recruited himself. He came to the Red from Penn, a school with a long history of basketball success, including five NCAA tournament appearances in his time as an assistant coach there. He gives the team his competitive, motivated spirit. With all the pieces in place, Cornell might be ready for a break-out year.

In the past, the basketball team has posted largely forgettable results, with a 5-22 record in 2001-2002. But last year the team managed to nearly double its win total, and this year with a bigger, stronger, more experienced line-up, it hopes to take that improvement to the next level.

The Red certainly has the players. The team is led by senior captain and all-Ivy guard Ka’ron Barnes, who might be the best point guard in the league. Right with him is junior captain Eric Taylor; last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, sophomore Lenny Collins; sharp-shooting junior Cody Toppert; and junior power forward Gabe Stephenson. They form a unit with size, skill, and charisma.

All these boys can play, and if it can convert on their potential, become competitive in the Ivy League and post a winning record, the crowds will come.

“I don’t think there’s any question that our building would be full,” said Donahue, if the team were vying for an Ivy title.

With a little publicity and a few victories, it could happen, and with a tall, promising freshman class in place, the pieces could be there for years to come.

“I think basketball has the chance to be more popular with more students,” said Donahue.

After all, more people know the sport than know hockey (Come on, how many of you knew what icing was in your first Cornell hockey game?), and the tickets are infinitely cheaper. Besides, while Cornell might always be (and should always be) a hockey school, there’s no reason to believe that two popular sports can’t co-exist on campus.

The basketball team has the chance to become one of the most inclusive, fun-to-watch, and popular teams at Cornell. All the ingredients — the coach, the players, the experience, the potential — are there. It’s only a matter of getting the students to believe. If they do believe, then Cornell will become a basketball school, and for two nights a week during the winter there will be no sweeter place on campus than Bartels Hall.

I believe it could happen, and you should too.

Archived article by Matt James