Tag: Kyle Smith

Columbia University Athletics

Columbia loses two players, including guard who was expected to factor into their rotation

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While Harvard is seen as the favorite to win the Ivy League in 2014-15, the Crimson will be challenged in their attempt to earn a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament berth. One expected contender is Yale, with another being a Columbia squad that won 21 games (8-6 Ivy League) and earned the program’s first postseason appearance since 1968. Kyle Smith welcomes back his top four scorers from a season ago, led by senior forward Alex Rosenberg (16.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and junior guard Maodo Lo (14.7, 3.8).

However the Lions will move forward without two players, as it was announced Saturday that guard Meiko Lyles and forward Zach En’Wezoh will not be with the program this season according to John Templon of Big Apple Buckets. Per a statement from Smith, Lyles is moving on in order to focus on graduating and getting a job after he does so, with injuries being the reason for En’Wezoh’s decision.

While the 6-foot-8 En’Wezoh accounted for 2.0 points and 1.4 rebounds in just over seven minutes of action per contest in 2013-14, Lyles was a part of the Lions’ perimeter rotation a season ago and that was expected to be the case in 2014-15. Lyles averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 22.7 minutes per contest in 2013-14, starting nine of the 33 games in which he played.

Among the other perimeter options who return for Columbia is senior Steve Frankoski, who averaged 5.7 points per game in 14 contests a season ago. Frankoski missed the first 15 games due to a wrist injury and now that he’s healthy the senior should figure more prominently in the Columbia perimeter rotation, especially with Lyles leaving the team.

Columbia seeking to challenge Harvard, Princeton in the Ivy League

Alex Rosenberg
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In most years, the Ivy League is nothing more than a blip on the radar of the college basketball scene. This year, however, is unlike most years.

Harvard garnered national attention even prior to the season beginning after defeating New Mexico in last year’s NCAA Tournament and returning two of their top players in Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry.

After their 9-1 start to the season, Princeton made it known they were more than capable of challenging the Crimson in the Ivy League. In fact, the notion of #2BidIvy began appearing in the Twitter world – that’s all but a dream now after the Tigers lost to Portland and Pennsylvania.

One Ivy League team that is receiving very little press is Columbia.

Perhaps it is because they were picked to finish eighth in the Ivy League, or because they graduated Brian Barbour – their top player on last year’s team that finished 12-16 overall and 4-10 in the Ivy League.

Expectations were low, no doubt. Truth be told, however, preseason accolades are meaningless, and Columbia is proving that notion.

“There’s obvious motivation [being picked to finish eighth in the league],” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith told NBC Sports following their home win over Stony Brook. “Even with our team last year, they did a good job staying together and I think that carries over to this year…It’s a helpful motivation.”

It was clear early in the season that Columbia was much better than many projected. After nearly beating MAAC-favorite Manhattan in their second game of the season, Columbia went to Michigan State and trailed the Spartans 54-53 at the final media timeout. They wound up losing 62-53, but these two games were a harbinger of things to come. 

Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell echoed how tough Columbia will be come Ivy League play, “Columbia is tough. You know, when someone told me Columbia was picked eighth in this league, I said, ‘Are you kidding me. If they’re not in the top two, I’m going to be stunned.’”

After beginning the season 5-5, Columbia has won seven of eight games, with their best win during this stretch coming against Stony Brook. Against the Seawolves, Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo combined for 53 of Columbia’s 68 points. Now a junior who leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg, Rosenberg has been leaned on heavily by Smith.

“Alex has been a sending. I tell everyone, no one cares more about being a good player than him. He’s one of the first guys we brought in, and he had the luxury of getting some early minutes in his career. There were some pits and valleys, but that’s to be expected as a young player. That experience has paid off.”

Columbia is off to a 1-0 start in the Ivy League after beating Cornell this past weekend. The Lions will embark on their most challenging stretch of the season over their next five games as all of them are on the road; the back-to-back swing against Princeton and Pennsylvania is always a daunting one.

“It’s really challenging playing back to back games. That second game, it’s really about getting yourself mentally ready to play. You still scout and everything, but it’s a little different. It’s about staying fresh.”

Smith has been around the coaching block having been an assistant at San Diego, Air Force, and St. Mary’s for nearly 20 years prior to coming to Columbia, and the challenge of playing Ivy League-coached teams is unparalleled.

“I’ve coached in three leagues as a college coach, and by far the best prepared teams I’ve ever encountered are in the Ivy League. The program I coached in before Columbia – St. Mary’s with Randy Bennett, a Rick Majerus disciple – our edge was in preparedness and having our opponent so well scouted. In this league, everyone knows each other so well – other coaches are barking out plays before we do.”

An area of concern is how Columbia faded down the stretch in the past three seasons. Last year, for instance, the Lions began 9-6, only to finish 12-16. But, 2014 isn’t last season, nor is it three seasons ago. Assuming they continue trending upward, this is a team that has the looks of a top tier Ivy League squad who may challenge Harvard for an Ivy League crown.

Summertime in the Ivy League

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College basketball coaches collectively rejoiced in January of 2012 when a new rule was passed stipulating that coaches would be afforded the opportunity to work with their players – including incoming freshmen – over the summer months.

As a refresher to the exact rule from the NCAA:

In men’s basketball, a student-athlete who is enrolled in summer school may engage in required weight-training, conditioning and skill-related instruction for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive weeks). Participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related instruction.

Additional time spent in the gym with their teams – what coach wouldn’t be on board with this? Coaches are always itching for additional practice time with their team during the season, so having an opportunity to develop skills and review offensive and defensive systems over the summer came as a welcome surprise.

A surprise for all, except those in the Ivy League.

To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

Add Ivy League coaching staffs not working with their teams over the summer – a self-imposed rule by the league, mind you – to an already long list of items making the Ancient Eight the most unique conference in America: it’s the only conference without a postseason tournament, the only conference without scholarships, the only conference that plays league games on back-to-back nights (Friday and Saturday), and almost assuredly the only conference that will never entertain the idea of conference realignment. This is the Ivy League, and they do things differently.

While the league certainly is unique and poses inherent challenges, no coach uses it as an excuse.

“Part of it is that we have to make sure we are recruiting the right men. The Ivy League will always be an academically first league, but we are looking for guys that have a desire to play professionally and that take their craft very seriously,” Brown head men’s basketball coach Mike Martin told NBC Sports by phone.

Many in the Ivy League seem to take an “it is what it is” approach. Nobody likes it and everyone would like additional time with their players just like all other coaches are afforded.

Of course, just because the coaches aren’t in the gym, does not mean players put the ball down from June through August.

“Rafael Maia (a rising sophomore center at Brown) played over in Russia with Brazil this summer at the World University Games. Even though we, as coaches, aren’t able to work with the guys for the allotted time each week doesn’t mean that they’re not significantly improving their game,” said Martin.

Columbia head coach Kyle Smith explained to NBC Sports over the phone that he does his best to “spin” to himself how not working with his team over the summer is somehow a good thing.

“We have different animals at Columbia and in the Ivy League. My big pitch is ‘you can be good at both’ (speaking of academics and basketball) – just look at Jeremy Lin.” (Side note: Smith offered Lin a spot on the roster at St. Mary’s, but it would have been as a recruited walk-on as the Gaels did not have a scholarship available)

“As not just a basketball player, but as a student and person as a whole, part of their growth and creativity is being on their own a little bit. In fact, I tell my players — especially the freshmen — to take some time right after exams to just unwind and spend time with their families. Between schoolwork and basketball during the year, they need the breather.”

To continue the “spin,” Smith used an apt analogy to explain that even if he and his staff were working side-by-side with their players over the summer, the players still need to put in the work themselves: “It usually comes down to individual talent. You can lead a horse to water, but he has to drink it himself. Fortunately, these guys are just achievers in general.”

Smith, like Martin who graduated from Brown in 2004 and coached at Pennsylvania for six years, is an academically oriented guy himself: “As a player, I actually wanted to play in the Ivy League, but maybe I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I’ve always had an affinity for high-academic guys.”

Smith may be selling himself short as he is a graduate of Hamilton College and had a very successful career at the New York-based NESCAC school.

“When I came to Columbia from St. Mary’s in 2010, there were two things I realized: one was there are some really talented players in this league that people just don’t know about, and two, the level of coaching in this league…some of the game’s top basketball minds have coached here. I think the level of basketball knowledge helps coaches deal with some of the challenges.”

Don’t let Martin’s or Smith’s comments fool you; they — like the other six Ivy League head coaches — would welcome summer practice time with open arms.

“It’s something that of course we are hoping and pushing for. It’s a matter of speaking with the athletic directors and getting them on board, and then the presidents will have to adopt it,” Martin said.

Smith remains optimistic that the league may modify the summer practice rules in the future.

“The league takes such pride in competing at the highest level in everything they do. Look at sports like hockey and lacrosse, Yale just won the national championship in hockey. Why not basketball? I think the presidents see that you can compete at the highest level without compromising academics.”

A prime example of competing at the highest level, the Harvard administration made a concerted effort several years ago to up their level of competitiveness in basketball, and they will be a fringe Top 25 team to begin the 2013-14 season as a result. Give credit to the Crimson who have made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and knocked off third-seeded New Mexico last year.

Looking ahead, there have been many early projections that have Harvard as a team to seriously watch come March; they have the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Think Tommy Amaker would like to have some time gelling with his squad right now?

Said Smith: “Going forward, there is no reason this can’t be a two-bid league.”

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11