November 5, 2004

Spread Offense Gives Forwards Key Roles

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As head coach Steve Donahue and his squad approach this season, several statistics linger over their heads — reminders of a strong start and soured finish that may help motivate the cagers to higher ground this season. A 5-0 league start and stellar performances by Ka’Ron Barnes ’04 riled hopes of an Ivy League crown and possible NCAA tournament berth, but the team subsequently lost seven of eight Ivy contests and finished 11-16 overall.

Those wins and losses were a team effort, but a lack of clutch offense failed to boost the Red to victory in its closest games, seven of which were decided by five points or fewer. Entering this year, the squad knows it must continue to stand strong defensively but also concentrate on finding the net more frequently.

Forwards Lenny Collins, Jason Mitchell, and Ryan Rourke will play an integral role in helping the offense achieve that goal.

In particular, Donahue hopes to spread the ball around, instead of relying primarily on Barnes to carry the burden.

“I don’t necessarily believe in trying to get one guy to be the guy all the time,” he said. “From the end of last season, I said we’re not playing like that, we’re not relying on that.”

Collins, a versatile junior who started all 27 games last season, looks to be one player who will benefit from the more diverse scheme. In his sophomore campaign, he was third on the team in scoring, with 279 points, second in free throw percentage (80.4), and third in offensive rebounds (36).

“I think now that the presence of Ka’Ron is gone, that’s a great opportunity for Lenny to step up and really make a huge jump of his play,” Donahue said. “He’s shown he’s a pretty good player in this league. I want him to be one of the best players in this league every single night. Every night, I’m going to need him to be a consistent 15, 20-point game guy.”

Though an upperclassmen, junior Ryan Rourke is a newcomer to the team who should make an immediate impact on the scoreboard — in terms of points made and prevented. The 6-8 transfer from Mesa Community College (Ariz.) was an honorable mention National Junior College Athletic Association All-American as a sophomore and averaged 17.1 points per game. With two years of eligibility at Cornell, Rourke will use this season to perfect his game in a new program. Donahue has high expectations.

“He’s our most talented guy at the spot, and he’s an experienced player. He’s not experienced in our system, but he’s played great competition in great leagues,” he said. “He’s got guard skills at 6-8, so he can guard people who are bigger, yet he can play away from the basket. He’s got good athleticism, a good sense of how to play.”

With that background and instinct, Rourke may compete for a starting role. At the very least, he and Collins will both see considerable playing time.

“I’ve always believed that practice matters and no one’s given a starting spot, and they’re earning that over the next six weeks,” Donahue said. “Obviously guys who’ve held those positions…would have a great opportunity to start again. But guys have to believe that when they come in every day, they have a chance to earn a starting spot.”

Though he may not land the number-one job this season, Mitchell, a sophomore, is the only other returning forward on the Red’s roster. In his rookie season, the Saluda, S.C. native played 82 minutes, scoring 15 points. Donahue expects the youngest of the trio to see more time this winter, though primarily at the four-spot, instead of the three.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor