The Glory Years

A man can be forgiven for speaking from his head rather than from his heart…

I was at Newman Arena on Saturday, watching the Cornell men’s basketball team warming up, getting ready to take on the Ivy League frontrunner, the Princeton Tigers, who came in with a 4-0 league record. I was chatting it up with a longtime friend (who also happens to be an employee of Cornell Athletics), and I said “What is the crystal ball saying today?” He shook his head and said, “Well, I hope given the special guests we have here, we can at least be competitive, but I gotta tell ya, I really don’t like these matchups.” 

The “special guests” my friend referenced were about two dozen alumni who had brought Ivy League titles to Cornell. Several members of the Class of 1988 were there, being recognized for winning the first title in Big Red history, as were quite a few players from the Class of 2010. That group, of course, won an Ivy-record 29 games in 2010, won its third straight Ivy title, then became the Darlings of the Big Dance by knocking off Temple, and then putting a convincing pounding on the mighty Badgers of Wisconsin. Those two wins made the Big Red the first Ivy League team to reach the Sweet 16 since 1979. 

The game got underway with the hosts going flat out while the visitors took some time to wake up. I might need to brush up on my feline anatomy, as I am unsure whether tigers have heels, but if they do, these Tigers were on them. The first minute and a half saw no scoring, but when Cornell’s Riley Voss blocked a shot and followed up with a 3-ball on the other end, the crowd started to buzz. Terrance “From Way Outside” McBride nailed a three, the energy level went up another notch.

Over the first 20 minutes, Cornell would play very aggressive D and enter the half up 35-22. Everyone knew that Princeton would mount a comeback, and they did, a few of them in fact, but Cornell answered every time. Josh Warren would come up with a big double-double, scoring 18 points and pulling down 10 boards. Terrance “Also Tough Inside” McBride chipped in 14 points and hustled all day on both ends. Riley Voss and Dean Noll were tough off the bench, but once again, the Big Red’s leading scorer, junior Jimmy Boeheim, led the way with 24 points and 9 rebounds. Well known for his prowess from the perimeter, Boeheim has clearly upped his inside game, and did just as much damage from close range. 

As stated, the first-place Tigers made a few runs, but when Greg Dolan led a fast break off a steal, then dropped a sweet behind-the-back bounce pass to Boeheim, who then slammed it home. The lead went back to a dozen, and the Tigers were tamed by a final score of 73-62. 

Reconnecting with the returning alums was a lot of fun, as I was working at Cornell Athletics when the Class of ’88 was assembling their historic season, and I don’t recall missing a single home game during that historic three-season run from ’08-’10. 

I approached the elder statesmen first, and I asked Greg Gilda if he could still dunk. Channeling his inner Dirty Harry, Greg smiled and replied, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” How about you, Dean Kartsonis? Can you still dunk? Kartsonis said, “Well, given I could barely dunk 35 years ago…” Point taken… 

The legendary long-range sniper John Bajusz was there, and when asked about his memories from the days of yore, he offered, “What I remember most is the Big Red Bear making the half-court shot…”

The 50-something alums went out on the floor after the game, attempting to blow off some dust and flash some old magic, and when Wolfgang Florin put up an airball from the foul line, he seemed disappointed that Josh Wexler just caught it and stood there. “Man,” Florin said, “that was a pass. You were supposed to catch it and put it in.”

Moving over to the younger alums, I asked Geoff Reeves if he could still dunk. “Yes I can,” Geoff said, and quickly added, “but I have four broken ribs.” Okay, Geoff… Then, his wife offered to show x-ray pics, so Reeves was off the hook. 

Ten years ago, Louis Dale was famously quoted as saying, “I’m enjoying every minute, because after this it’s just babies and memories.” I asked Sweet Lou if he had any babies. “No,” he laughed, “just memories.” Ryan “Hittman” Wittman, Jon Jaques and Alex Tyler, however, are two-for-two. They have memories and babies. 

Jeff Foote played several seasons of pro ball after college, he’s still 7-feet tall and in great shape, so asking him if he can still dunk would be a dumb question.

Jaques has been a Big Red assistant for several years, and I asked him if Boeheim’s vastly improving inside game was surprising anyone. “No,” Jaques said. “His great footwork and his touch are enhancing his game.” 

I complimented Boeheim on his stellar inside play, and he said, “Thanks, I’ve been working on it.” Of the alums in attendance, he said, “It was great to have them here. We have so much respect for them, and we’re trying to honor them and follow their legacy.”

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