Without one of its top centers from a year ago, the Red will rely on a seasoned veteran and a couple of rookies at the five spot in hopes of establishing its footing in the paint and the Ivy League for the upcoming season.
The indefinite absence of senior Jason Hertfort after off-season surgery for a foot injury will be a major setback the Red will have to overcome up front.
“[Hartford] is not healthy right now,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “We are literally waiting for a doctor in Oregon to give him the okay to start running. Once we get the okay, it’s six weeks before we can get him on the basketball court.”
Hartford, who hopes to be back in time for the majority of the league season, played significant minutes off the bench last year and can be a threat from both inside and out when he is in top form. He averaged 7.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game for the Red last season. The senior established himself as a crunch-time player when he converted an offensive rebound against Harvard with 2.4 seconds left on the clock to secure a 79-77 victory for Cornell on Feb. 4.
Senior tri-captain Andrew Naeve will see the bulk of the minutes at the five spot for the Red and will look to provide leadership to the rest of the team as he hopes to capitalize on his potential to be one of the top big men in the Ivy League.
“[Naeve] leads by example,” Donahue said. “[To be a captain] you can’t just be someone who tells, you have to got out there and do it. He does that consistently day in, day out.”
Mainly a defensive presence a year ago, Naeve looks to make his mark on both ends of the court and prove he can up his scoring from 6.9 points per game a year ago and be a significant offensive threat.
“On offense, I look to be more aggressive,” he said. “I have been working with our coaches on ways to improve on the block with quicker moves and better control.”
Behind Naeve, a talented freshman duo will look to make an immediate impact on Cornell basketball and, because of Hartford’s absence, they will likely get thrown in the fire early.
The two youngsters, Peter Reynolds and Alex Tyler, have already started to impress Donahue.
“They both are quick, long, athletic kids,” Donahue said. “They are just a little young and inexperienced right now, but they give you a lot of hop of the bench. I am very pleased with them.”
So impressed is Donahue with both his young big men that he is unsure who will see more time come the season.
“[Reynolds and Tyler] are really battling for those minutes right now,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you who is the first guy right now because they are really fighting. They are both doing a great job.”
Traditionally, Donahue has preferred a smaller lineup with at least three solid ball handlers in the game, but he also entertains the possibility of going “big” this season. Tyler, who stands a solid 6-7 and 230 pounds, and Reynolds, who is listed at 6-8 and 210, will give the Red the opportunity to field a sizeable lineup.
“I think we can rebound better than we ever have this season,” Donahue said. “Our big guys have great energy and there is no saying I can’t move [Reynolds] or [Tyler] around and have them all playing together to go with a bigger lineup.”
When asked if there is more pressure on him up front without Hartford, Naeve doesn’t seem worried.
“There might be a little more pressure,” he says. “But the new guys are solid and they can step in without any problems.”