The success of the men’s basketball team will begin with the play of its veteran guards. Led by senior co-captain Ka’Ron Barnes, the backcourt returns for the 2003-04 season almost entirely intact.
“I’m very confident in our group,” said head coach Steve Donahue.
Barnes is the most experienced of the four guards, as he is the only senior and has been starting at the point for most of his career. Donahue will rely on Barnes to reinforce the techniques that he’s teaching.
“Especially with defense, I want Ka’Ron to be getting in hard on guys, showing them things,” said Donahue.
Barnes (6-0, 190 pounds) sets a good example as the leading returning scorer in the Ivy League and the Cornell single-game record holder for assists with 13. Last season, he garnered second-team All-Ivy honors.
Rounding out the starting backcourt is returning letterman Cody Toppert, who will play the two. Toppert, a 6-4, 202-pound junior from New Mexico, is the owner of a silky smooth left-handed stroke. He has started all 54 games for the Red over the past two seasons and has a .341 career shooting percentage from behind the arc.
“Cody’s been shooting it really well,” said Barnes. “It’s hard to stop him.”
The tandem of Barnes and Toppert will frustrate opposing defenses. While great friends off the court, their chemistry shines brightest on the hardwood, where they confound teams with their different styles. Barnes is more of a penetrator while Toppert is one of the purest shooters in the league. This contrast should cause defensive mismatches almost every night.
“We’re hard to guard,” said Toppert. “You basically have to pick how you’re going to get beat.”
Motivation is not a problem for Toppert, who was raked over the coals by Ivy season previews. On www.ivybasketball.com, an unnamed opposing player was quoted as saying, “he’s overrated … he’s not a great defender and isn’t a very good passer.”
“That’s crap,” said Toppert. “I plan on playing as if every player in the league said that stuff. I’ll take it out on everyone.”
“I’ve got faith in him,” said Barnes. “He’s proved that he’s dedicated. He’ll make everyone shove their words up their you-know-what.”
Supporting Barnes and Toppert are freshman Graham Dow and sophomore David Lisle. Both from Canada, Dow and Lisle will provide quality minutes coming off the bench.
Lisle, last year’s sixth man, averaged a solid 18 minutes a game as a freshman. More of a combo guard, Lisle is able to use his 6-4, 210-pound frame to post up smaller defenders. Dow is less of an explosive scorer and more of a distributor. In the summer of 2002, Dow ran the point for Canada’s junior national team.
“They’re spark plugs; they’ll be ready to play,” said Barnes.
The incumbent upperclassmen have helped to pass along their experience to the next generation Cornell backcourt.
“Every day in practice is a learning tool,” said Toppert. “They’re able to see the way we play and speed up their contribution.”
The installation of a more wide-open offense should play to the strengths of Cornell’s 2003-04 backcourt — athleticism and tenacity. Excited by the prospect of a more transition-oriented style than in years past, both Barnes and Toppert agree that Cornell can run with anybody.
“The work that we’ve done to get ready for this year is amazing,” said Toppert. “It’s going to come down on everyone in the Ivy League.”
Archived article by Per Ostman