Columbia play-by-play announcer Jerry Recco caught up with men's basketball head coach Kyle Smith and sophomore Grant Mullins and junior Alex Rosenberg to preview the upcoming 2013-14 season. To hear their thoughts, click play in the video above and read about this year's Lions.
It may be easy to look at Columbia’s record and call last year a disappointment, especially with expectations of the Lions competing for an Ivy League Championship. However, if you look closer, there is proof that the program is heading in the right direction.
Columbia defeated two teams that reached the NCAA Tournament (Harvard and Villanova) for the first time since the 2001-02 season and routinely gave the top-half of the Ancient Eight fits, but came out on the short end of eight games decided by six points or less.
Head coach Kyle Smith has no seniors on this year’s squad, but that does not mean the Lions lack experience. The 2013-14 version of the team has five players that have started on a consistent basis and several more that have seen significant playing time.
“I feel really good about our guys,” Smith said. “This is our third recruiting class and our program is really starting to take its shape. They’re a good group and fun to be around. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got.”
With the loss of starting point guard Brian Barbour, Columbia will turn to a four-headed combination to take over the ball-handling duties. Leading that quartet will be sophomore Grant Mullins.
Mullins averaged 9.7 points and shot .374 from downtown, establishing himself as one of the most efficient offensive players in the nation as a first-year. He honed his skills over the summer with the Canadian National Development Team, competing at the Seven Nations Tournament in China, where he helped the team go a perfect 9-0 against some of the top young talent in the world.
Sophomores Maodo Lo and Isaac Cohen will also be relied on to run the Lions’ offense and their combination of size and speed should create matchup nightmares with opposing point guards across the league.
Lo emerged as a starter in Ivy League play and averaged 9.0 points per game in conference play, which was second on the team. He showed the ability to take over games, like he did in a dominant 20-point effort in a win over Yale.
Cohen improved as the 2012-13 season went along and has the potential to play the role of “glue guy” that most teams have in order to be successful. One of the best passers on the squad, Cohen has the ability to drive the lane to set up teammates and to create his own shot. At 6’4”, he is also not afraid to mix it up in the paint to chip-in on the boards as proved by his nine-rebound effort at the Palestra last season at Penn.
Smith will also tell you that first-year Kendall Jackson is the team’s only “true” point guard on the roster. Like Barbour, Jackson is a savvy player from the Bay Area with a skill set that somewhat resembles the style of Harvard’s Siyani Chambers. Jackson will provide Columbia with a change of pace at the point and allow Mullins, Lo and Cohen to play off the ball.
The Lions have no shortage of depth at guard with 3-point specialist Steve Frankoski, Noah Springwater and the return of Meiko Lyles.
Ask the Crimson how tough the Lions are to beat when Frankoski gets going. In Columbia’s stunning win over Harvard in Levien Gym, the Florham Park, N.J., native poured in 27 points on the strength of five treys. Frankoski is one of the top shooters in the conference and knocked down treys at a .455 clip in 2012-13.
Springwater can also knock down the three and is also a strong defender that Smith trusts in crunch time. Lyles missed last season for personal reasons, but is capable of dropping 20 points or more on a given night which willl provide the Lions another lift.
Columbia’s frontcourt will have somewhat of a new look. Gone are staples Mark Cisco and John Daniels, but juniors Cory Osetkowski and Alex Rosenberg return and provide the Lions with valuable experience at their positions.
The 6’10” Osetkowski is back after a full offseason of basketball workouts for the first time after spending the spring of 2012 as a pitcher on the baseball team and is slated to begin the season as the club’s starting center. The coaching staff will look to run the offense through Osetkowski more this season due to his passing skills and ability to stretch the floor with his shooting range.
“Now that Cory is fully committed to basketball, we’re really looking forward to taking advantage of his skill-set,” Smith stated. “It’s the first time we’ve really had a true offseason with him. He’s stronger and more confident.”
Rosenberg is another player that gained international experience in the offseason, joining Team USA at the Maccabi Games in Israel, where he helped the team win a Gold Medal. The Short Hills, N.J., product averaged 9.5 points per game as a sophomore, including a 21-point breakout game in the Lions’ upset victory over Villanova.
“I think he got a chance to play with and against professionals,” commented Smith. “I think that’s always a good experience. Going up against better players kind of opens your eyes. I always compare his game to Hedo Turkoglu. He’s a big, 6-7 forward that can make a lot of plays and I think the more consistent he becomes on the perimeter shooting the ball, the better he becomes everywhere else. He’s a tough matchup for forwards, plays hard and really wants to become a good player.”
Local product Luke Petrasek has shown a lot in his short time in Morningside Heights. The 6’10” forward should start at the power forward spot and is a strong all-around player with high basketball IQ.
“Luke has caught on defensively, which usually, is the hardest thing to do for young guys,” Smith said. “He gives us some flexibility in the frontcourt.”
Sophomore Zach En’Wezoh should see more significant action after battling through an injury-plagued first year. He’ll be joined by 7’1” center Conor Voss, Canadian standout Chris McComber and the athletic Jeff Coby. All three first-years have battled minor nagging injuries in the preseason, but will be ready to contribute by the start of the season.
After opening up against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Saturday, the Lions have a heavy dose of games against strong opponents in November. Columbia will welcome MAAC preseason favorite Manhattan to Levien Gym on Nov. 12 before heading to East Lansing to take on No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 15 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Columbia continues the non-exempt event with a trip to Portland where they face the host Pilots, North Texas and Idaho.
Another highlight of the non-conference slate is a trip to Barclays Center as part of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Festival where the Lions will renew their rivalry with St. John’s on Dec. 28.
“We’ve got a competitive non-conference schedule with a chance to go out to East Lansing and play Michigan State,” Smith said. “We are very honored to have the chance to play St. John’s at the Barclays Center. Plus, some of our other local rivalries and other academic rivalries with the Patriot League teams we have on our schedule.”
The 14-game tournament will commence on Jan. 18 when Cornell’s men and women’s teams pay a visit to the Upper West Side and Smith is enthusiastic about the quality and talent level across the Ivy League.
“The country is going to be shocked with the quality and depth of the conference,” Smith said. “I think most teams are young, but they’re good. I think the Ivy League is going to be very competitive and it’ll be fun to watch.”
And as for what Columbia fans can expect to see this season. Smith’s answer is simple.
“I think we have a hard-working team that likes to be around each other and it show on the court,” said Smith. It’s a very unselfish group that is willing to share the ball. Again, we may be young, but these guys have seen a taste of success and really want to take this program to a higher level.”
Also, make sure to attend the FREE Meet and Greet with Head Basketball Coaches Kyle Smith and Stephanie Glance tomorrow, Thursday, Nov. from 7-9 at Slate, 54 West 21st Street. Click here to RSVP!