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 Jeff Foote is the man.
Cornellians are no stranger to professional basketball. Since 1995, more than 25 Big Red basketball alumni have extended their career to the professional ranks.
Cornellians are also no stranger to the NBA. Bryan Colangelo (’87) is the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors. Larry Tanenbaum (’68) spearheaded the effort to bring an NBA franchise to Toronto. Steve Belkin (’69) is a former owner of the Atlanta Hawks who sold his 30 percent stake in 2010. Mark Tatum (’91) is currently the deputy commissioner and chief operating officer of the NBA, commissioner Adam Silver’s No. 2.
Big Red alumni playing in the NBA is a different story. In the league’s early years, Cornell had somewhat of a presence. Shortly after the NBA’s inaugural 1946-47 season, Nat Militzok, Ed Peterson, and Gene Berce were all drafted by the New York Knicks. But recent NBA history wasn’t as kind to basketball players from Cornell. In the past 50 years, 3,071 men have suited up for an NBA game, only one of those men played college basketball at Cornell.
Several Cornell alums have gotten close. Jeff Aubry (’99), Cody Toppert (’05), and Ryan Wittman (’10) all played in the NBA Development League. In 2010, Wittman also played seven combined summer league games for the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, but never got further than that.
In fact, Cornell’s NBA history isn’t much different from any other Ivy League school. Since 1980, there have been only 14 NBA players from the Ancient Eight, an average of 1.75 players per school. In that period, Penn has the most with five and Brown and Columbia have yet to crack the league.
The one Cornellian to make it to the big show, the only one of the 3,071 NBA casino players in the last 50 years who called Ithaca home, is Jeff Foote.
Foote’s professional basketball career was building to this point – stops in Israel, Spain and Lithuania – invites to the Portland Trailblazers and Brooklyn Nets training camp – and stints with the NBADL’s Springfield Armor. In the 2011-12 season, Foote was with the Armor, averaging 15.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He ranked fourth in the league in rebounds and double-doubles and started in the D-League’s all-star game.
At the same time, the New Orleans Hornets were dealing with major injuries to its frontcourt. Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry and Jason Smith were all sidelined, leaving the team with just Chris Kaman, Gustavo Ayon, and no depth.
On March 9, 2012, Jeff Foote got the call. He was heading to the NBA, signing a 10-day contract with the Hornets. Foote appeared in four games, the most productive of which was a 23-minute, four-point, four-rebound effort against the Denver Nuggets. Foote’s contract expired on March 19 and was not renewed. He went back to the Armor and ended the year being named Second Team All NBA D-League.
It was a cup of coffee in the NBA, but even if it was a small cup, it was and still is pretty darn cool. Add the path Foote took to get to the NBA, (we’re getting to that later in the countdown) and it’s even more impressive.