Columbia preparing for “big” future

The Ivy League is losing a number of key players from last season, but one team that will return much of its rotation is Columbia. Still, like every team in the league in 2012-13 the Lions are going to be relying on some young talent in order to move up in the league standings.

The preparation for next season has started already, including a trip to Europe this summer where Columbia’s returning players had a chance to play against teams in Spain and Italy. Steve Frankoski, who is returning from a broken foot that sidelined him for the entire 2011-12 season, returned to the starting lineup during the trip.

“It went great. Basketball wise and team building wise it really helped our program grow,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith. “We had the ability to tweak some things offensively and change some things defensively that if we just had our season to prepare we couldn’t.”

One interesting possibility is Columbia playing two big men at once. Corey Osetkowski and Mark Cisco played together at times during the trip. It’s a Twin Towers approach that along with Alex Rosenberg, would make Columbia one of the biggest teams in the league. (I might’ve mentioned something like this as a possibility last season.)

“We’re going to try playing Corey and Mark together this season,” Smith said. “Defensively we had to make some adjustments to play it. They’ll be big. It’s a different style of play than I’m used to, but it gives us a chance to get our best guys on the floor.”

The graduations of seniors Chris Crockett, Steve Egee and Blaise Staab leave a few holes that Smith is going to have to fill. Also, Noruwa Agho, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, won’t be returning.

That means it will probably be up to some of the five freshmen coming into the Columbia program to help pick up the burden. A few of them will be counted on to join the rotation quickly.

The most well known recruit is probably 6’2″ Canadian point guard Grant Mullins. Mullins is considered by some to be the top point guard recruit out of Canada this recruiting season. In the 2012 Rumble All-Canada Classic Mullins put on a show, scoring 16 points on 6-9 shooting and also recording eight rebounds and eight assists as he earned the MVP and led the North team to a 114-75 victory.

“He scores the ball and shoots it well enough he can play both spots,” Smith said. “He’s the heir apparent to Brian [Barbour] after he graduates.”

But Columbia will need a few more healthy guards to help Barbour out in the backcourt. Another recruit that Smith is hoping can contribute this season is Maodo “Mo” Lo from Wilbraham & Monsons. Lo, who was born in Germany, is a 6’2″ point guard with good skills on both sides of the ball. Also, Isaac Cohen, a 6’4″ shooting guard, and Brad Gilson, a 6’5″ small forward, could also help out on the perimeter. Both are strong scorers according to Smith. Finally, Columbia is adding another young big man in 6’6″ forward¬†Zach En’Wezoh.

Still, these are just freshmen who have to adjust not only to Division I basketball competition, but also Ivy academic standards. While Rosenberg and Osetkowski were able to make big contributions last season, they’re the exception rather than the rule.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the freshmen,” Smith said. “I think with the academic piece and with New York City it’s not easy.”

The schedule will also feature a baptism by fire. Columbia is once again going to be playing a challenging non-conference schedule, including locals like Manhattan and LIU Brooklyn and one of the top teams in the Patriot League, Bucknell. It should help prep the Lions for an Ivy League season where they’ll be expected to compete with, and hopefully move into, the top half of the league.

“We need to be ready,” Smith said. “There are some teams that we can gain some ground on in our league and we need to. We have to keep getting better.”

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