We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Cornell is next because, well, it’s the last school left. (But not least!)
It won’t be a surprise to anyone that a good portion of the top 10 moments in Cornell basketball history will be dedicated to the three-year run from 2008 through 2010 that culminated in its first ever Sweet Sixteen berth. A lot had to happen and even more had to go right for a school with no discernable basketball pedigree to overtake the highest stage in the conference, and at times the nation. The stone that started the ripple effect was bringing the architect of the transformation to Ithaca, New York.
It was the fall of 2000 and the Cornell men’s basketball team was beginning the new century moving in the wrong direction. It had been 11 seasons since its last conference title in 1988, and the program had only finished with a winning record twice. The path toward relevance again took a detour when after four seasons and a 45-60 record, head coach Scott Thompson was forced to resign to focus on his battle with colon cancer. Whoever would take his place would inherit a team that after being picked to finished third in the league managed only a 3-11 conference record, good for dead last.
That man was 38-year-old Steve Donahue, who was officially hired on Sept. 6, 2000. It would have been a nice Cinderella story if Coach D, with a fresh motion offense, a few of his patented whistles, and some elbow grease took this group from worst to first immediately, but we all know it didn’t go down that way.
Transforming Cornell into a winner proved to be just as tough as the New York Jets finding a franchise quarterback (still working on that one). Fortunately, the 10-year assistant from Penn was the man for the job, and Cornell was the school with the patience to sit back and watch Donahue’s plan play out.
The successes of Donahue’s 10-year tenure at Cornell will be well-chronicled in this Ivy Hoops Online retrospective so we don’t need to get into all of it here. What stands out most about the Steve Donahue era isn’t his success (don’t get me wrong, the success was great and we’re probably not writing this article without it), but the way he did it.
Upon his departure from East Hill, former Ivy League Player of the Year, Louis Dale said, “I want to say thank you for a great four years, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I want to thank you for making me a better basketball player, a better human being, and a better man, teaching us the values on and off the court.”
That pretty much says it all. Cheers to the No. 10 all-time moment in Cornell basketball history, the hiring of Steve Donahue.
(Editor’s note: Check out this awesome 2010 video created by our writer Jake Mastbaum at Slope Sports featuring words of gratitude for Donahue from many of the coach’s former’s players, Dale included.)