Star freshmen Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale have become household names for many men’s basketball fans, as the two have experienced transcendent rookie campaigns, already firmly etching their names in the record books. However, a lesser-known duo of rookies — Alex Tyler and Geoff Reeves — has recently established itself as an indispensable part of the Red’s current surge.
“Seeing [Wittman and Dale] play so well has kind of helped push us a little more,” Tyler said. “We are all playing great right now and not really playing like freshmen anymore.”
[img_assist|nid=21533|title=In your face|desc=Freshman Alex Tyler (33) goes up for a shot during Cornell’s 60-59 win over Yale on Feb. 10.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=100]
Because of injuries, neither Tyler nor Reeves saw much time during the early parts of the season. But hard work in rehabilitation, combined with steady improvement in practice, has earned each player significant minutes in the past few weeks.
“Not being injured and being at 100 percent [has helped],” Reeves said. “We have been able to give a lot more effort during practice to earn more time.”
For Reeves, last weekend’s game against Penn was a coming-out party, as he played 21 minutes and recorded a season-high 12 points. At times, he found himself matching up with last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year Ibrahim Jaaber.
“[Head] coach [Steve Donahue] let me know he was expecting me to play a little bit more that night,” Reeves said. “He just wanted me to be aggressive. When I got in there, I didn’t hold anything back.”
The 6-7 Tyler, a native of Clear Springs, Md., has also made his presence felt for the Red. Since Ivy League play began, the forward has been playing significant minutes, averaging 7.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in conference games — both good enough for fourth on the team.
On Feb. 2 and 3, in games against Harvard and Dartmouth, an aggressive Tyler averaged 14 points on 77 percent shooting and was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week. Since that time, the physical power forward has continued his strong play inside and has often been the first player off the bench.
Coming off the bench for Donahue, each player has been asked to provide a spark — Tyler in the paint and Reeves on the perimeter — for Cornell on both ends of the floor. Additionally, each has allowed Donahue a chance to play a deep rotation, allowing the team to stay fresh near the end of games.
“I think I can bring some energy,” Tyler said. “I think that is what they wanted from me off the bench. Come in and get some hustle plays and some offensive rebounds. When the other guys are getting tired and I am a little more rested, I can come in and just outwork [the other team].”
Reeves is aware of the team’s scoring capabilities, especially those of his fellow freshmen, and understands what he can do to help win games.
“We have [Wittman and Dale] and those guys scoring the ball,” he said. “We just need someone to make sure they get the ball and to knock down open shots when they aren’t open.”
Yet, the two rookies have very little experience. Having played a grand total of 33 college basketball games combined, Reeves and Tyler have looked to the senior leaders to help them adjust to a faster, more physical college game.
“They have helped us,” Tyler said. “They have asked us to take more responsibility. [Senior tri-captain] Andrew [Naeve] has really helped me down low and answered any of my questions. They have been great leading the team and have really put us on their shoulders a number of times.”
“They set a certain tone every day in practice,” Reeves said. “Even if we are having an off-day, they push us to try our best — no matter what.”