May 3, 2006

Orton Chronicles Ivy M. Basketball

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After bumping into Kathy Orton of The Washington Post at basketball games all winter as she did the legwork for her upcoming book on men’s basketball in the Ivy League, The Sun asked her to share some of her insights from the “14-game tournament” that is a basketball season in the Ancient Eight. Today, she shares insights and reflects on this past season – including why she thought Cornell would win the league championship. Tomorrow, Orton predicts the future of the conference and college basketball in general.

The Sun: What is it about Ivy League men’s basketball that is so unique you were inspired to write a whole book about it?

Kathy Orton: Well, I think it’s so different than the rest of Division I basketball. I know there are some very obvious things that make it different [like] not having a postseason, conference tournament, not having scholarships – if you ask coaches, that’s one of the biggest things that makes it different from the rest of Division I basketball. But I think there are things that people don’t really consider, and that’s the Friday-Saturday scheduling … how the student-athletes have to really balance their education and their academics along with their athletics and sort of what that all entails, especially being at a very competitive school like an Ivy League school as well as participating in Division I basketball.

The Sun: Which Ivy League team did you have the most fun watching? Which player stood out after the season was over?

Kathy Orton: That’s a tough question, because the one thing I didn’t really fully appreciate until I went through the season was how important every single game was. … They like to use that phrase, “14-game tournament” and it really is a six-week, 14-game tournament where every game feels like it’s the most important game, and there were so many really competitive, exciting games. I can think of that Cornell-Harvard game, there was the Cornell-Princeton game, those are two that just immediately come to mind. As far as players, I can think of Adam Gore at Syracuse having that great game as a freshman in the Dome, I thought that was impressive. I can think of Scottie Greenman hitting that amazing shot in the overtime, the two he made in the overtimes against Cornell at Cornell. … I know [Penn’s Ibrahim] Jaaber was the Ivy League Player of the Year and certainly I saw countless great performances by Ibby, but I think that would be sort of a disservice to the other kids because I saw a lot of great performances from a lot of different kids throughout the season, and it’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child, you know? Because they each had something really special, I thought, in all of them.

The Sun: You first saw Cornell play in its second game of the season, a 67-62 loss against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. What was your first impression of Cornell and how did that change throughout the season?

Kathy Orton: I thought, “these guys are fabulous, they’re going to win the league,” after I saw them the first time. … I was really impressed with how well they had played. That’s why I think Cornell really surprised me this year, in that I was never quite sure which Cornell team would show up. So many times they were so phenomenally talented and great, and then sometimes they just looked like they weren’t the same guys wearing the jerseys. And I talked to them about this … and I don’t know if they were ever able to put a finger on why that would happen. But it was interesting to watch that sort of phenomenon, where it was almost like there were two different Cornell teams. And certainly after [sophomore] Khaliq [Gant’s] injury, the way they responded at Columbia was just an amazing performance. I’ll always remember that game and the emotion that went into that game because that was really pretty spectacular, the way they were able to win that game because of all that was going on around them.

The Sun: What did you expect coming into the 2005-06 season, and what surprised you?

Kathy Orton: I came into the book trying not to have any preconceived ideas about what Ivy League basketball – obviously, I had covered the league for The Washington Post for several years and knew a little bit about it. But, I wanted to not do a lot of research ahead of time. I wanted to talk to people and get their impressions. Obviously, Cornell’s season was such an odd season. … I would talk to the players during the season and they would just tell me how it was just unlike any other season they had been through and then to have the injury to Khaliq put that in a whole other category. … I think there were four schools that I thought had very interesting seasons. Cornell, obviously, for it’s up and down season. Penn because it won the league title – I think any time a team goes through a whole season and comes so close to perfection, I think that’s interesting. And certainly being the team that everyone was trying to beat, I think that’s hard when you’re put into a position of having to win, everyone expects you to win and then winning. Princeton, obviously, for its historical success in the league and then sort of having such a miserable preseason and then finishing second in the league. And then sort of the opposite case, Harvard, which was picked to finish second in the league, had a fairly good non-conference season and then just kind of fell apart in the Ivy League season. So those four schools that have intrigued me the most and probably will be the biggest focus of the book.

The Sun: How would you say Glen Miller, the former head coach at Brown, will do taking over the reins at Penn after Fran Dunphy’s departure?

Kathy Orton: I think he’s an excellent coach; I think Penn’s getting a really good coach. It’s going to be a tough act to follow Fran Dunphy, who was so well-liked and well-regarded in the community as well as at the school. I always thought whenever I’d go see him, it was like seeing the mayor of Philadelphia because he knew everyone. I think it’s going to be really hard on Glen Miller to follow his act at Penn. … But he is a very good coach and I think the players will appreciate getting someone who’s very passionate about basketball and very knowledgeable of the game. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like for Glen Miller to go back to Brown and play his former team. I think that’s going to be hard – when you recruit kids to a school and tell them you’re going to be there and then you leave for another school in the conference, I think that’s probably going to be very hard on him and I don’t envy him having to go through that.

The Sun: You’ve covered the WNBA and the Ivy League. How would you defend those two leagues to people that say they’re not as relevant as other leagues at their level?

Kathy Orton: I’ve covered so many things, everything from Super Bowl teams … I’ve covered minor league baseball, I’ve covered high school sports, and I’ll never forget this, an eight-year-old girls’ softball team that had its own press kit. It was in California; it was a different world out there. I guess my point is that I’ve covered every level, from the very small sports to the very big sports and I think there’s an appeal to someone in all of them. Certainly more people are going to watch the Super Bowl than are going to watch a Washington Mystics game or an eight-year-olds softball team. But at the same time, I think there’s something in there for everyone in the sense that they’re all people playing these sports and these people all have stories to tell … and sometimes the more interesting stories are the ones that come from the smaller sports or the less-recognized sports, because by the time you get to the Super Bowl there isn’t anything you don’t know about Ray Lewis [of the Baltimore Ravens], pretty much. A lot of times I find that, for example, covering the Ivy League … there’s not usually a lot of people there to cover these kids and these coaches and a lot of their stories don’t get told – which I think is unfortunate, because I think there’s much more to them than the stereotype that people have of Ivy League athletes or as the other example, WNBA players.

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Sports Editor
Paul Testa
Sun Assistant Sports Editor