November 15, 2012
Red Dragons’ backcourt in good hands
If savvy, creative and experienced backcourt play is as crucial to basketball success as pundits often suggest, especially when the post-season rolls around, then SUNY Cortland should be in pretty good shape.
When the Red Dragons get a 2012-13 campaign filled with promise underway this evening on the road at Elmira College, head coach Tom Spanbauer can be comforted having senior guards Jesse Winter and Jeremy Smith still around to help ensure things run smoothly.
Both players have been productive contributors since arriving on campus four years ago. Both figure to be key components in Cortland’s quest to improve on last year’s 22-7 success that included reaching the SUNY Athletic Conference playoff championship game.
“They’ve veteran guards. They’ve both played a lot of minutes and have played in a lot of big games, and they’ve both made a lot of big plays,” said Coach Spanbauer of the high-scoring duo.
In his previous three seasons, Winter scored 1,082 points, dished out 315 assists and came up with 63 steals as a Red Dragon.
In his previous three seasons, Smith scored 913 points, dished out 122 assists and came up with 70 steals as a Red Dragon.
“They’re both really confident in the fact that in late-game situations they both want the ball in their hands,” added Spanbauer. “They’re willing to take the risk of being the play-maker and have demonstrated the ability to make plays. We’re hoping that will continue this year.”
Winter is the truer point guard with a scorer’s mentality, leading Cortland in scoring the past two seasons. He averaged 14.8 points per game last year, 15.7 points per game average as a junior and is one of only 20 players to have surpassed 1,000 career points at Cortland.
Smith can create his own shot with his quickness and can also direct the offense when called upon. He has gone on amazing scoring sprees like the 37 points delivered to beat Geneseo in last year’s conference semifinal game, setting a playoff record with nine 3-pointers. He is on track to join Winter as a member of the school’s exclusive 1,000-point club.
“We kind of know about each other’s games, so we feed off each other a lot,” said Smith, the 6-foot-1 native of the Bronx who played scholastically at Kingsbridge Academy. “He’s more of a true point guard and a shooter, but if they take him away I can take over.”
“At this point, we’ve been playing together for four years so we pretty much know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Winter, the gritty 5-foot-11 product of Rockville Centre South Side on Long Island who was an ECAC Upstate second-team selection a year ago.
“I know where he wants the ball and he knows where I want the ball, so we definitely work well together,” added Winter. “Whether he’s coming off a screen on the play or whether I know just to give him the ball and let him isolate, at this point it’s worked well playing together.”
BOTH PLAYERS SPENT the summer trying to improve as players.
“I worked out and tried to get stronger, because that’s an area of my game I wanted to improve,” said Smith, who also played in several tournaments to fuel his competitive fires.
Winter played in “four of five” leagues while also spending time training kids in a gymnasium setting. “I’m a gym rat. I love it. That’s how my life is,” he says.
Both have also grown since their frisky freshman days, too.
“It’s been a learning experience. I learned how to really play the game of basketball,” said Smith of his time at Cortland, having selected the Red Dragons over closer-to-home Pace University.
“I learned how to be on a legit basketball team. Before I came here, I would say I wasn’t on a legit team where everyone cared for each other and everyone were brothers. It’s been a good experience,” he added. “I’ve progressed a lot since my freshman year. Now I’m able to do a lot more on the court and am more knowledgeable about the game. Basically, I know what’s going on more than when I got here.”
Winter has developed into a well-season veteran, too, after coming to Cortland hoping to be part of the rich tradition of Red Dragon athletics and make an impact on the basketball program. “I know all the ins and outs and I think I’ve even grown as a player from last year,” he noted.
“I know guys are targeting me, that I’m one of the main guys they want to focus on in their scouting reports,” he adds. “But I feel like just over the summer and preseason I’ve been focusing on things to make me better, whether it’s been a pull-up jump shot or working on such things as my defense. I feel like this year for me, hopefully, will be my best year yet.”
Though Smith will be seeking a business internship eventually, while Winter is a communications major, both will look into the possibility of playing overseas when college is over. But this season is the main focus for now.
“LAST YEAR WAS good, but I don’t think a lot of people on this team really viewed it as a complete success because we didn’t reach our ultimate goal,” said Smith, Cortland beaten by regular season champion Oswego in the conference title game and failing to qualify for the NCAA Division IIII tournament. “So this year we’re hungry to reach that ultimate goal.”
Being among five returning seniors on an experienced roster, the senior guards don’t have to worry about carrying the offense. On any given night, these Red Dragons have five or six players who could put 20 points or more on an opponent.
Depth and versatility are two of the biggest strengths on this team.
“I would say we picked up right where we left off last year and I think we might be further than we were last year, just the way we flow into our offense, ” said Winter of Cortland’s pre-season preparation. “We’ve been practicing hard. Right now we have a sense of urgency, and I’ve been making sure everyone knows that.
“At the end of last year we kind of made sure there was that sense or urgency at all times. I’m trying to stress from the beginning of the year that there’s always a sense of urgency. We can’t take games off,” added team captain Winter. “With that being said, with the expectations being high, I think that’s a good thing.” he added. “We need to have expectations set high because that’s the type of team we want to be. If we don’t have the goals set where they need to be, we won’t be a team that can go as far as we want.”
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