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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The good, the bad & the ugly: Columbia 48, Cornell 45

THE GOOD: Null.

By any objective standards, this was a horrific basketball game. Columbia averaged a whopping 0.76 points per possession and Cornell kept pace at 0.71. Despite never leading in the game, Cornell had a great shot to win given a flurry of Columbia miscues down the stretch (see below). Columbia turned the ball over 23 times, Cornell shot 25.9 percent from the field as a team, and everyone on both sides likely wants to focus all of their attention towards Saturday’s rematch in Morningside Heights rather than the game tape of yesterday’s “masterpiece.”

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Surprise Ivy team of 2014 – Cornell

(collegebasketball.ap.org)
(collegebasketball.ap.org)

Sure it was close. Dartmouth own the better record at 6-6, but Cornell sits at 6-7, after going 2-26 last year.

Who expected wins over George Mason, Canisius and Siena, a close call with Penn State and a semi-competitive battle with national power Syracuse?
Many considered that last season would be the last for coach Bill Courtney, but the athletic director saw some fire in the fifth-year head coach, recognized that Cornell had some key injuries last season and gave him another season to right the ship. And right it he has.

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Cornell at Syracuse: Scouting report from The Juice Online

(The Juice Online)
(The Juice Online)
Last year’s season-opening Cornell-Syracuse matchup got very interesting, with the Big Red leading 36-22 in the first half and 38-32 at halftime before the Big Red faltered down the stretch to lose, 82-60. Cornell then lost 25 more games, while Syracuse started the season 25-0.
We’re lucky to have Wes Cheng, managing editor of The Juice Online, to help make sense of this year’s edition of the Big Red/Orange series:
IHO: Tell us about The Juice Online.
WC: The Juice (then called The Big Orange) was founded in 1992, one of approximately 50 independent publications devoted to the coverage of its school’s athletics programs. In 2002, it became a full-color, glossy magazine which was owned by Fox Sports. The print product ceased publication in June of 2010 and was relaunched as The Juice Online in December of 2010. In February 2012, The Juice Online partnered with SportsNet New York, the official television home of the New York Mets and New York Jets. As part of SNY.tv’s Blog Network, The Juice Online supplements SNY’s coverage of more than 125 college football and basketball games, as well as other college sports programming.
IHO: What are the major story lines with Syracuse?
WC: The last six seasons have been unprecedented successes for the program. Starting in the 2008-09 season, the Orange has averaged 29.5 wins a season, which is the best six-year stretch in program history. During that time, SU has reached the Final Four and the Elite Eight, something that has also never happened. I say all of this because Syracuse is the most vulnerable it’s been since 2008. The Orange lost its top scorer (CJ Fair), top bench player (Jerami Grant), one of its interior defenders (Baye Keita) and clutch guard (Tyler Ennis). In past years, the Orange has been able to reload on the fly, but that appears to have finally caught up to SU as they have four losses in its non-conference schedule, the most since the 2007-08 season, which is also the last time SU missed the NCAA Tournament.

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A Cornell comeback within a Cornell comeback

After Colgate’s Damon Sherman-Newsome scored the first eight points of the game against Cornell, the Big Red looked a lot like the 2-26 Big Red of 2013-14: sluggish and ineffective. Later, a 23-6 Big Red deficit had them looking like a carbon copy of that 2013-14 squad.

Then Devin Cherry kicked his game into high gear, turning in a career performance and almost single-handedly turning the game around for Cornell. Cherry finished with 21 points, five assists, four boards and three steals while shooting an efficient 8-for-15 from the floor. He scored 20 of Cornell’s first 49 points and made sure the Big Red didn’t fade completely in the first half. He played with passion and he was consistently rewarded for it.

To put Cornell’s win into proper perspective, the Big Red lost to Colgate by 23 last year. Cornell is making sure we all know this is not last year.

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