Cornell all-time moment No. 6: Jeff Foote signs NBA contract

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.

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Cornell all-time moment No. 7: Beating Northwestern in 2006

Louis Dale drives for a layup in his first collegiate game, a 64-61 win over Northwestern.
Louis Dale drives for a layup in his first collegiate game, a 64-61 win over Northwestern.

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 a dynasty has to start somewhere…

It didn’t happen overnight for Steve Donahue, but a steady stream of talent was starting to come into the program, and results were slowly showing on the court. In 2005, Cornell went 8-6 in conference play, its first winning record in the Ivy League since 1993. The Red followed its second-place Ivy finish with a third-place finish in 2006, the first back-to-back top-half league finishes since the 1988 and 1989 campaigns.

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Cornell all-time moment No. 8: Big Red's first modern Ivy League title

Cornell 1988 Picture
The 1987-88 Cornell Big Red.

 

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 nothing compares 2 Cornell.

Ivy League schools have been competing in basketball for a long time. Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, Yale and Harvard have met on the hardwood since 1901. Penn joined in 1903, Dartmouth in 1911, and finally, Brown in 1953. For the first 53 years, these school competed in what was known as the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League. Results were pretty even. Penn led all schools with 13 titles, followed by Columbia with 12, and Dartmouth with nine. Cornell won the league four times – in 1913, 1914, 1924, and 1954.

Official “Ivy League” competition begun in 1956, a year that also marked the start of Penn-Princeton dominance. From 1956 to 1987, the total number of Ivy League Basketball championships looked like this:

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Cornell all-time moment No. 9: Cornell defeats Bill Bradley – The Blaine Aston shot

Cornell Box Score

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 once upon a time, Barton Hall was a buzzer-beater biosphere. 

Cornell has a few impressive wins in its history. Defeating defending national runner-up Ohio State in 1940, taking down Kentucky 92-77 in 1966 and beating a Cal team featuring two future NBA players, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, in 1992. (Spoiler alert: Some big wins have intentionally been left out. They will be covered later in Cornell’s top 10 all-time moments.)

Arguably, the most impressive of them all is what occurred on Jan. 16, 1965.

There’s plenty of healthy debate over who is the best team in Ivy League history. The 1979 Penn team? One of Jim McMillian’s Columbia teams? The 1998 Princeton team? 2010 Cornell?

Sam MacNeil’s 1965 Cornell team did finish 19-5, but will never be in this conversation. On the other hand, the ‘65 Princeton team, led by future Hall of Famer Bill Bradley might start and end the debate.

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Cornell all-time moment No. 10: Hiring Steve Donahue as head coach

 

Pictured above (from left to right): Former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, former Cornell president Hunter Rawlings, and athletic director Andy Noel
Pictured above (from left to right): Former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, former Cornell president Hunter Rawlings, and athletic director Andy Noel

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.

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Shonn Miller transfers to UConn

Shonn Miller chose UConn after Ivy rules forbade him from returning to Cornell for another year. (USA Today Sports)
Shonn Miller chose UConn after Ivy rules forbade him from returning to Cornell for another year. (USA Today Sports)

Shonn Miller is headed to the Huskies.

Since the Ivy League prohibits the participation of graduate students and Miller, missed the 2013-14 season following shoulder surgery, the 2014-15 first-team All-Ivy senior forward still has a year of eligibility to spend at a non-Ivy school. Now he’ll spend it at four-time national champion UConn, where he is instantly eligible.

“It just felt like home,” Miller told ESPN.com. “I got along with all the players and everybody in general just welcomed me like I was a part of their family.”

Miller was a boss at both ends of the floor last season, notching 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals in 31.3 minutes per contest. He finished second in the Ivy League in scoring, rebounding and free throw percentage, as well as fourth in both blocks and three-pointers made, and eighth in steals. There’s really not a lot that Miller can’t do, and his absence in 2013-14 hit Cornell like a ton of bricks, with the Big Red going 2-26 without him.

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ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Cornell extends Bill Courtney’s contract

Cornell is doubling down on coach Bill Courtney.

The Big Red have extended Courtney’s contract through 2020.

Cornell athletic director Andy Noel announced the extension Wednesday, which many consider questionable following a fifth straight season under Courtney without a postseason appearance. In five seasons under Courtney, Cornell is 50-95 (.345) overall and 24-46 (.343) in Ivy play.

Noel offered reasons for the extension later Wednesday at a press conference in the concourse outside of Newman Arena, as the gym floor was being cleaned at the time.

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Shonn Miller must move on from Cornell

Shonn Miller has been rendered a free agent with one year of eligibility left due to Ivy League rules on graduate students.
Shonn Miller has been rendered a free agent with one year of eligibility left due to Ivy League rules on graduate students.

Senior forward and All-Ivy first-team shoo-in Shonn Miller is being forced to wind down his career with Cornell.

Because the Ivy League prohibits the participation of graduate students and Miller missed last season following shoulder surgery, Miller still has a year of eligibility remaining but cannot use it at Cornell.

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Shot selection keeps holding the Big Red back

This is Shonn Miller doing the opposite of hoisting a three. (ithacajournal.com)
This is Shonn Miller doing the opposite of hoisting a three. (ithacajournal.com)

We are a little more than halfway through the Ivy slate and Cornell is just as up as it is down.  12-12 on the season and 4-4 in conference.   Satisfied?  Disappointed?  I don’t think you’ll find a Big Red fan in too much anguish. To suffer over a team bouncing back from its lowest win total in school history and fewest wins in league play since the 1970-71 campaign would be unreasonable, but who said sports fans have to be reasonable?  We’re a fickle group, easily frustrated and often disillusioned.

This is why when a team picked to finish dead last finds itself in the top half of the standings past the midway point of play, we can’t help but ask ourselves, why not more?

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