After finishing among the top teams in the Ancient Eight over the last two seasons, the men’s basketball team has reloaded for the 2006-07 campaign with a deep and talented group of six freshmen and one sophomore transfer.
The Red settled into third place at the end of last season with a 13-15 overall record. Cornell was 8-6 in the Ivy League for the second consecutive year, a record that earned the Red its best finish in 17 years in 2004-05. With the season opener just two months away, head coach Steve Donahue believes the Class of 2010 may provide the necessary talent to challenge for a title.
“I think with our recent success … now we target some guys — and got five guys early, guys we wanted, guys that were recruited not only by other schools in our league but other teams in the country,” Donahue said. “I thought it was a better class talent-wise. Now, will they bring the same desire, work ethic, and intensity to help us get over the hump and have a breakout year? I think this is something that we’re looking to do.”
Although today is the first day of classes, the on-court lessons have already begun for freshmen Louis Dale III, Pete Reynolds, Ryan Wittman, Jon Jacques, Geoff Reeves and Alex Tyler. Sophomore transfer Colin Robinson has also begun to learn the Cornellstyle after spending his freshman year at USC.
“I was impressed. We had some big guys that battled [senior Andrew] Naeve inside, bigger guys that can shoot like [sophomore Brian] Kreefer,” said senior center Jason Hartford. “They’ll probably add a lot of depth … last year we had a really shallow bench. This year, I think if they can keep picking their game up like they have the last couple of days I’ve been watching them, we’ll be able to put them in to give starters a break.”
At 5-11 and 170 pounds, Dale may be the smallest of the newcomers, but that hasn’t made a difference in the point guard’s ability to make an impact on the court. The Birmingham, Ala., native was nominated for a spot on the McDonald’s High School All-American team after being named a first-team all-state selection by the Birmingham News as a senior. Donahue emphasized Dale’s athleticism — he was a high school state champion in the triple jump — as well as his ability to get to the rim, push the ball, and make the players around him better. He is expected to share minutes with senior point guard Graham Dow.
With the loss of Lenny Collins ’06 and David Lisle ’06, Donahue was seeking guards with good size who could handle the ball to fill the gaps left by graduation. He found answers in Reeves and Wittman, shooters that he feels bring athleticism and good basketball sense, respectively, to the lineup for the Red.
Reeves, who arrived on East Hill from Burlington, Kan., stands 6-5 and weighs in at 185 pounds. He averaged 23.6 points per game his senior year, and was a second-team all-state selection by Rivals.com. He was also named third-team all-state by the Wichita Eagle.
Wittman traveled from Eden Prairie, Minn., to follow in his father’s footsteps by playing Division I basketball. His father, Randy, was a member of Indiana’s 1981 NCAA championship team and was the 1983 Big Ten Player of the Year. Wittman, a 6-6, 190-pound guard, was one of five finalists for the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Award as a senior and was named to various all-state teams. In his final high school season, Wittman averaged 20.3 points per gamewhile connecting on 50 percent of his 3-point attempts and 84 percent of his free throws.
Reynolds, Jaques, and Tyler have already made their presence felt in the paint. “They’re all really impressive, they’re all playing and holding their own really well with us. It should be a very good group this year,” Kreefer said.
Reynolds is a 6-8, 210-pound center on his way to Cornell from Blair, Neb. Like Dale, Reynolds was a first-team all-state selection and averaged 17.2 points and 9.5 rebounds for his high school squad, leading the team to a district title. He leaves Blair High School after setting records in career rebounds (515) and blocks (211), as well as season shooting percentage (65.3 percent as a junior). With this background, Donahue feels Reynolds could develop into a strong post player with a knack for playing with his back to the basket.
Jaques will be the farthest from home among the new recruits, as the 6-7, 210-pound freshman calls Los Angeles, Calif., home. He was a first-team all-league and first-team All-CIF selection his senior year after posting 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range. He brings an ability to run the floor and play inside and out to the table for the Red.
Tyler, 6-7 and 240 pounds, could be a workhorse in the paint for the Red, as he averaged a double-double of 14.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game as a senior at Mercerburg Academy in Clear Spring, Md. He scored in double figures 23 times as his high school team finished with a 25-3 record, completing his prep career with 1,370 career points. Donahue describes him as a power player who offers a scoring threat out to 15 feet.
“It’s a big group,” Donahue said. “I think we filled a lot of needs. They’re great team players, talented, [play] different positions, so I think we’re happy with all that and so far I think they’re fitting in with our guys. It’s just a great group of guys that mix with our veterans.”
As a sophomore transfer from a Pac-10 school, Robinson adds a dimension to the group of someone who has experience against tough collegiate competition. Although he must sit out this season according to NCAA regulations, Donahue believes he will still affect the team this year.
“I think he’s used to playing against very talented guys and athletic [guys]. For this year, he’ll make our guys that he’s playing against [in practice] much better,” Donahue said. “And for the years after, in our league, I think he’ll be someone who can score off the dribble, get to the lane, do those things, and make people better off the dribble.”