October 21, 2005

M. Hoops Begins Trip to The Dance

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March seems so far away right now. We still need to go through about 20 feet of snowfall, the holiday season, and the Super Bowl, among other things.

But last Saturday in Newman Arena, on a warm October morning, March was the only thing in the minds of the men’s basketball team.

The team is assured of playing at least two games in March, when it travels to Harvard and Dartmouth on the 3rd and 4th of the month, respectively. But after a second-place finish in the league a season ago, the team seems poised to take a trip to the Big Dance for the first time since 1988 – and what would beat March Madness spreading throughout campus after a long, dreary, Ithaca winter? Nothing would. Nope, not even hockey, you puckheads.

And after watching the 15 men on the team hustle throughout the 10 a.m. practice while their peers were drinking themselves stupid during Homecoming festivities, it is hard to believe that the 2005 squad won’t be playing a game in the NCAA tournament’s first weekend, with CBS giving us live look-ins and Bill Raftery getting fired up about the gritty little Ivy League team that could. Think I’m getting a little too ahead of myself? Maybe. But there’s reason to be confident in this team.

Sure, the squad may have lost its heart and soul from the past few seasons in Eric Taylor ’05, but there are new leaders ready to emerge. Seniors Lenny Collins, David Lisle, and Ryan Rourke are not only standout players, but they are unselfish leaders that will no doubt lead the Red to new heights. One of the reasons why is because the three upperclassmen are not only leaders on the court, but also friends off the court – unlike some other team’s captains at Cornell – which will make the six newcomers, including five freshmen, feel welcome in their new environment.

And while the team will look to the captains for guidance, the captains will look to their head coach for direction on the court.

Last year, Steve Donahue preached playing as a team, which meant helping each other out on the defensive end and finding the open man on offense. The result was an unselfish team that achieved an 8-6 Ivy record, which included the first sweep of Princeton since the 1984-85 season. The season also concluded with Donahue being named the Ivy League’s Coach of the Year by CollegeInsider.com – a well-deserved honor.

Donahue’s method is simple – keep to the basics. For almost the first hour of Saturday’s practice, nobody even took a shot. In fact, the team worked on defensive and passing drills for the better part of the morning. After that, the only shots that the Red took were from the charity stripe, even though the team was tops in the Ancient Eight in free throw percentage a season ago.

Yet, my favorite drill of the practice had to be when two players would stand face-to-face and roll the ball to their teammate, who, in turn, had to dive to snatch up the loose ball.

It was like watching a Duke-Maryland game in the middle of October in Ithaca. The intensity that the team brought to its second practice of the year will no doubt be looked upon during the tense moments of this season, when a tournament berth could be decided.

And make no mistake, Donahue and company were thinking just that on Saturday morning despite the fact that the first game of the season is still three weeks away.

Because no matter how beautiful fall is as the leaves change colors, there is nothing that would look better to the basketball team than to see the name “Cornell” pop up on Selection Sunday in the field of 65.

Chris Mascaro is the Sun Sports Editor. He May Be Tall will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Chris Mascaro