February 7, 2007

Wittman Uses Winning Pedigree

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As any avid sports fan can attest to, the chance to play 1-on-1 against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett would be a dream come true. For Cornell freshman Ryan Wittman, it was just another part of growing up as the son of Randy Wittman — now head coach and two-time assistant of the Timberwolves.

“[Garnett] has blocked more than a couple of my shots before,” Wittman said. “At this point, I might be able to get one or two shots up [against him.]”

While Garnett may have had success stopping Wittman from scoring, the Red’s opponents have not been lucky enough to enjoy similar results. Entering this weekend’s games, Wittman leads Cornell (11-9, 4-2 Ivy) in scoring with over 15 points per game, having netted 17 or more points in eight of the Red’s first 20 games. Wittman, however, can’t take all the credit for his early success. The freshman from Minnesota recognizes the important role that his father’s 23-year playing and coaching career in the NBA has had on his development as a player.

[img_assist|nid=21184|title=Perfect form|desc=Freshman Ryan Wittman attempts a shot during a match against Hartford earlier in the season.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=100]

“Obviously, it was a great help for me to be around basketball from such a young age,” Wittman said. “Having someone focus on me who knows so much about the game made me into a much better and smarter player.”

Such experience also aided Wittman’s transition to the collegiate level as he could draw from his father’s experience at Indiana University. The elder Wittman was part of the Hoosiers’ 1981 NCAA Championship squad and was a two-time academic All-American.

“He told me the game was going to be more intense, but you really can’t learn that until you actually start playing,” Wittman said. “Every play in practice and in games is just much more intense [than in high school.]”

While most fatherly advice concerning basketball is less than adequate to propel one into Division I basketball, the elder Wittman’s basketball counsel has raised the freshman’s game to the Division I level and generated Ivy League success. With an early season injury to last season’s leading scorer, sophomore Adam Gore, Wittman was ready and willing to fill in the role as an outside shooting threat and offensive weapon. In particular, Wittman has displayed marksmanship from the outside by connecting on 44 percent of his three-point attempts.

“I learned the basic [shooting] mechanics and made sure I didn’t develop bad habits,” Wittman said. “It really helped me fine-tune my shooting and that’s really benefited me.”

When Wittman wasn’t honing his jump shot or torturing his Minnesota high school opponents, he was observing one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

“[Garnett] is a guy who works so hard and has so much fun while also being determined to be the best player out there,” Wittman said. “He was always getting shots up before anyone got there and was there after everyone left.”

To Wittman though, the best advice has little to do with the physical side of the game.

“[My father] stressed to always play with confidence,” Wittman said. “You have to go out there believing you are the best player on the court