Cornell Season Preview – Youth Must Be Served

This year”s 2015-16 Cornell season preview comes from Barry Leonard, who is looking forward to his 24th year providing top-notch radio broadcasting of Big Red hoops.

As he enters year number six as the head coach of Cornell basketball, Bill Courtney will embrace the phrase “Youth must be served.”

Eight freshman comprise the 19-man roster, and several will have to play immediate minutes for the Big Red.  The graduation of All-Ivy do-everything forward Shonn Miller, Galal Cancer and others has opened up playing time in what will be a spirited competition for minutes. Two returning starters, both juniors, will be counted on heavily.

It starts with 6-9 big man David Onuorah, who looked much improved in the team”s annual Red/White game on Oct. 24. The Atlanta native will need to stay out of foul trouble and be a force both defensively and as a rebounder. He also showed more polished post moves in the game. Fellow junior Robert Hatter will also log major playing time and his end-to-end speed will make him a tough cover for teams in transition. The third junior who will most likely see increased playing time is guard Daryl Smith, who is a tenacious defender and adept at slashing to the basket.

Keeping with the third-year vets, guard JoJo Fallas was a pleasant surprise off the bench as a sophomore and provides outside shooting and energy off the bench.  Rising sophomores Wil Bathurst and Jordan Abdur-Ra”oof will also be counted on to produce this season. Bathurst, showed a hint of his promise in last casino season”s finale, scoring 20 points at Penn, and he fits the Bill Courtney mold of an athletic swing man who can run, jump and score, though he needs to improve his defense. At 6-7, Abdur-Ra”oof can stretch the floor with his outside shooting and saw increased minutes in Ivy play last season. Just two seniors are on the roster, guard Robert Mischler, a good long distance shooter, and much maligned center Braxston Bunce, who has battled injuries his entire career.

But perhaps the most intriguing question for me, fans, coaches and those connected with the program is the promise of the freshman class. Guard Matt Morgan from Concord, N.C. looks like an instant contributor with ball handling skills and a good outside shot. Burly first-year forward Donovan Wright from Easton, Pa. is a bull underneath the bucket while 6-4 guard Troy Whiteside from Knoxville, Tenn. has the skills to see minutes off the bench.

Courtney has always emphasized an uptempo style, particularly pushing the pace in transition from defense to offense. With the continued improvement of the returning upperclassmen, combined with this athletic freshman class, he may finally be able to play the full 40 minutes of intense, pressure-laced defense he has craved.  The schedule, while not as daunting as years past, features trips to play traditional powers Georgia Tech (opener on Nov. 13) along with Pittsburgh (Nov. 25) and the annual trip up the road to Syracuse (Dec. 19).

In terms of predictions, as the team matures heading into Ivy play in mid-January, I can see this as team capable of double-digit victories (10-14 win range), with a much bigger jump one year from now.  Building team chemistry early will be a key with so many new faces, and while there may be some struggles due to the youth early, the upside is huge!