Don’t listen to all those magazines; size does matter, especially in basketball. It matters for the easy points off the boards, defense, and — perhaps most importantly — rebounding.
With the return of 6-8 junior Gabe Stephenson to the starting lineup, and the addition of two freshmen forwards at 6-8 and 6-9 the Red will make a dramatic improvement in that area.
Last year, with Stephenson injured, Cornell had a starting lineup that closely resembled a four-guard set, with Lenny Collins the second tallest man on the floor at 6-6. Now, with Stephenson joining returning center and classmate Eric Taylor, the Red will have some serious size up front, allowing Collins to play his more natural guard/forward role.
Add to that a year of some weight room training and maturation, and you get a much tougher team for the 2003-04 season.
“We’re one of the strongest, biggest teams in the league,” said head coach Steve Donahue.
“Just looking around the gym, you can see the size is a lot different this year,” said Stephenson. “We’re a lot bigger too … It’s going to help us a lot with the defense and rebounding.”
Stephenson, who missed parts of both his first two years with injuries, is the biggest difference on the team this year. He adds a major presence in the post and will give the Red a much larger presence up front.
“Gabe at the four (power forward) is going to be a big advantage for us,” said Taylor. “We shouldn’t get out-rebounded like we were last year.”
“Gabe is someone who is going to surprise,” Donahue said. “No one has done a better job of changing his body.”
In the past year Stephenson has done the work to make himself a force on the court, and now, it’s showing.
“It will definitely help with the rebounding having Gabe and the freshmen coming off the bench,” said Collins. “That was definitely a big weakness in our game last year.”
Collins joins Stephenson as the Red’s other starting forward. He makes his mark as a well-rounded player with the ability to bring the ball up the floor, shoot from both the inside and the outside, and rebound as needed.
Last season, he earned the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award after leading the league’s freshmen in both scoring (8.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.1 rpg).
Behind Stephenson and Collins, juniors Kevin Farley and Stevan Marcetic form a duo of experienced backups. Farley provides a quick, solid defensive presence in the post with the ability to rebound and block shots. Marcetic combines good size (6-9) with excellent shooting ability and can play either inside or on the perimeter.
Two rookies also look to vie for time this season. Jason Mitchell has the size and the skills to earn minutes immediately. He brings quickness and a soft touch that gives him definite scoring ability. Dane Williams brings a great defensive presence to the post, and the ability to score in a variety of ways.
It adds up to a lot of size, and a group that can gain experience in game-time while still contributing as backups. Donahue said he sees every new member of the team as fulfilling a role in the coming season.
“I try to recruit with the idea of who is going to be the best 21-year-old juniors,” he said. “We can control how big and strong we get.”
And in his fourth year with the team, Donahue’s first recruits are just beginning to reach that stage, and each one of them talks about the team’s experience. Each member of the starting lineup has started at least 20 games in his career. So, it’s no coincidence that the team is ready to make its first run for an Ivy title in 15 years.
“Experience is going to be a big factor,” said Taylor.
“We’re the most experienced team in the league right now,” Donahue added.
“Our greatest strength is going to be our toughness,” said Stephenson, physical and mental.
“We’re the TFITI,” concluded Stephenson, “the toughest front-court in the Ivies.”
Archived article by Matt James