November 14, 2008

Inside Play Crucial For Ivy Title Defense

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For a team that has become nationally recognized for its 3-point shooting, it’s odd to think of the men’s basketball team trying to run its offense through guys on the block.
“We’re going to take advantage of our size and our ability inside, play inside-out as we always did, but maybe even more so this year in terms of getting the ball inside,” said head coach Steve Donahue.
With senior guard Adam Gore out until at least January with a torn ACL and backcourt mate, junior Louis Dale, nursing a hamstring injury, the Red’s strength may lie in its forwards, at least to begin the season.
Senior Jeff Foote and junior Alex Tyler were both integral parts of Cornell’s undefeated run through the Ivy League last year. While Foote added 20 pounds to his still-lanky frame and Tyler worked on adding an elbow jumper to his repetoire, the Red’s biggest strategy change might be due to junior Ryan Wittman filling out his 6-6 frame.
“I think we’ll probably work on getting Witt on the blocks a little more, he’s a little stronger,” Tyler said.
Which is why Tyler’s new 15-foot elbow jumper might come in handy.
“Usually when he’s in the post, I’ll be up high, or Alex will be up high,” Foote said. “We’ll switch it up a little to hit somebody doing something that they wouldn’t expect.”
If the Red is looking to surprise its opponents, it should look no further than junior Andre Wilkins coming off the bench. Wilkins — always goofy and athletic — has yet to find his niche with the team.
“The focus for me should be more on the defensive end — deflecting passes, getting in the passing lane, rebounding and just being very active and vocal on and off the ball,” Wilkins said.
But sequestered from his teammates in Toronto, Ont., during the summer, Wilkins had to get creative.
“[To work on] defense … you need actual bodies,” he said. “… So I just went to the community center and played a whole bunch of guys. … They play very sloppy, so I just tried to make an effort to be in my defensive stance all the time and be all over the place and predict where the passes were going and kind of play it like a real game.”
If Wilkins is the wild card in the bunch, then senior co-captain Brian Kreefer is the sure thing — he may not wow you, but he’ll get it done.
“I think Brian Kreefer has the jump on [minutes off the bench] because he has so much experience,” Donahue said. “He’s a very crafty player, he knows how to get guys open, he knows where to be defensively. I know he’s not the most athletic guy.”
Vying for any leftover minutes will be juniors Jon Jaques, Pete Reynolds and Mark Van Burck, sophomores Adam Wire and Aaron Osgood and freshman Alex Hill. Jaques has played the role of the opposing team’s best player during practice — getting to shoot almost unrestrained at times.
“On the court, every possession, he works very hard,” Wilkins said. “You can see the frustration on his face when he makes a mistake because he’s going so hard. It’s admirable. I feel like I’m slacking when I look over there and he’s diving for a ball, whether we’re down 20 or up 20. It kind of pushes you.”