A few years back, there was an American Express commercial that featured then-coach of the Dallas Mavericks Don Nelson speaking to his various foreign players in their native languages. The commercial illustrated the way in which Dallas had gone around the globe in its attempt to field a championship basketball team. Men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue, has employed a similar practice on a continental scale, with his players coming from 16 different states and Canadian one province. Senior tri-captain Graham Dow, an Ontario native, is the only international player.
Donahue’s attitude towards recruiting has always been about finding student-athletes, no matter what background they came from, that are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve team goals.
[img_assist|nid=20866|title=Graham Dow, an example of the Red’s diverse roster|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=100]
“We want talented kids who are really passionate about basketball and [also] are just really great people,” he said. “They are unselfish, they think team first, when you get those type of kids … they think about what’s best for the team. What we see are kids that will really buy into our philosophy.”
This philosophy has lead Donahue and his staff to all ends of the country as this year’s squad features players from fifteen different states and one province ranging from freshman Louis Dale of Alabama to sophomore Conor Mullen of Washington to sophomore Jason Battle of North Carolina to freshman Ryan Wittman of Minnesota.
When Donohure initially came to Cornell in 2000 he focused on the Midwest in hopes that Cornell could attract a slew of talented kids living in or around large agricultural areas.
“It goes back to our thoughts on how we were going to build the program,” Donahue said. “We looked at the strength of this school with the Ag school being so prominent. The kids from the Midwest appreciate this type of campus and that is the first thing we tried to attract.”
Now, in appealing to kids from every part of the country, Donahue uses Cornell’s strong academic reputation as one of his strongest selling points.
“We are an Ivy League school and you are getting a world class education,” he said. “All the kids that decide to attend Cornell, this is the No. 1 reason that they came here, it is respected all over the world.”
Because the Ivies are usually competing for the same kids around the country, it has become necessary for Donahue and his staff to look for players that have blossomed unnoticed and out of touch with the other Ivy League schools.
“We try to get student-athletes that are maybe under the radar from other Ivies,” Donahue said. “It was very difficult to continually bang heads with other Ivies that were already winning when I was just starting here. So we looked for the atypical Ivy League kid.”
Cornell is made up of these “atypical” kids and Donahue has fused them into his system and molded them into a squad that has finished the last two Ivy seasons in second and third place, respectively. Currently the Red sits in second place at 2-1.
Because of the recent success, Donahue hopes that more talented basketball players will be interested in coming to Cornell, not only for academics, but for the quality of the basketball team as well. Especially interesting to Donahue is the potential of landing some more local student-athletes.
“We are constantly recruiting all areas, including our own backyard,” Donahue said. “I think the local area is terrific, I would love to have more kids from this area and I think as we put together a winning a tradition, we will be able to get some of these kids.”
A native Pennsylvanian, Donahue would also like to bring some kids in from New York’s neighbor to the south, especially from talent-rich Philadelphia, where Donahue coached, and recruited, as an assistant for Penn.
“I am from Philly and I know the type of ball that is being played in that area,” he said. “I really don’t have a favorite [place to recruit], but I would definitely like to get more kids from Philly.”
Other sports at Cornell often look to New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey for the next class of Cornell athletes during recruiting. More than half of the members of the men’s lacrosse team, for example, come from those three states.
But that has not been the way Donahue has structured his team.
“In this league,” he said. “We have to strategize how we can get a quality student-athlete and be competitive in the league. It doesn’t really matter where a kid is from, as long as they fit in the program.”
And those kids that fit in this program are an eclectic mix of basketball players that form a geographical melting pot that will take a 9-8 overall record into the weekend’s home match up against Columbia. The game is a rematch of the Red’s 49-45 victory last Saturday in which every player that scored for Cornell was from a different state.