The numbers, as did the name, jumped off the page of Cornell University’s most recent basketball box score. Ryan Wittman played 14 minutes in a game against Bryant University. He did not attempt a free throw, took seven shots from the field and scored 19 points. He made all seven field-goal attempts, including five three-pointers.
The last name and shooting numbers led to an easy conclusion: Ryan Wittman must be Randy Wittman’s son. He is. As a sophomore, Randy scored 16 points in 40 minutes in helping Isiah Thomas-led Indiana University to a 63-50 victory against North Carolina for the national title, the year before Michael Jordan arrived. Randy, 50, went on to play nine seasons in the NBA, was head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and now is an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards.
Randy Wittman was noted for his terrific shooting form.
“I think we have pretty similar jumpers, but it’s hard to say for sure,” said Ryan, a 6-foot-7 senior forward who leads Cornell into Allen Fieldhouse tonight for a game against top-ranked Kansas. “He’s so old, the video’s a little grainy.”
The younger Wittman shoots .851 from the line and .438 from beyond the three-point arc. He averages 18.9 points per game and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. He has his act together in the classroom as well. He’ll leave Cornell with a degree in applied economics and management.
The father obviously did more than pass along good genes to prepare the son to succeed at such a prestigious academic institution, one that has a 12-2 basketball record. Ryan said his father made sure he learned by shooting close to the basket and slowly expanding his range, making sure he never developed bad habits taking shots he wasn’t strong enough to make with proper form. When it came time to pick a school, Ryan said, his father did something else right. He left the process up to his son. He didn’t work his connections to get him into an Indiana uniform. Then coached by Mike Davis, the Hoosiers didn’t recruit him.
“It definitely worked out for the best,” Ryan said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Asked about his outrageous line in the Bryant box score, Wittman said, “When you have unselfish players on your team, you can get some open shots. We have a lot of good shooters and a lot of confident offensive players, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t play the right way.”
Like Kansas, Cornell prides itself on excellent ball movement, a key component to the Big Red ranking second in the nation in three-point percentage (43.4), Kansas third (42.9).
If Wittman has an off night, he won’t blame stage fright. He has played at Syracuse and Duke, and Cornell coach Steve Donahue predicts a pro basketball future for him.
“He has everything you want in a player,” Donahue said. “Size, he can shoot it, toughness, and he looks for the stage.”