Virginia Tech assistant Bill Courtney was hired as Cornell's basketball coach Friday, succeeding Steve Donahue at a school that did the Ivy League proud with its NCAA tournament run.
"My challenge here is a great one. The job Coach Donahue did was amazing," Courtney said at a news conference on campus. "We will have to rebuild a little bit, but I've looked into the eyes of the players and I see they have tasted that success and they want it again. We're going to work our tails off to make it happen again, I can promise you that."
This is the first head coaching job for Courtney, a 39-year-old well-traveled assistant who was introduced at the Ithaca, N.Y., campus.
"Bill Courtney brings an array of qualities to Cornell basketball that I am confident will lead the Big Red to continued success within the Ivy league and beyond," athletic director Andy Noel said in a statement. "His energy and enthusiasm are infectious, but his attention to the details of coaching and recruiting are what makes me confident that we have hired a winner."
Donahue took the Boston College coaching job two weeks ago after 10 seasons with the Big Red. He won three straight Ivy League titles and led Cornell to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament in March.
Cornell delivered stunning, lopsided victories over Atlantic 10 champ Temple and Big Ten power Wisconsin before losing to Kentucky, the top seed in the East Regional. Cornell finished the season with an Ivy League-record 29 victories.
Courtney starred in college at Bucknell, where he was an All-Patriot League selection and the team captain his junior and senior seasons. He said his academic background and familiarity with Cornell will serve him well.
"It helps tremendously," he said. "This is a special place. I think it's an easy sell. What was stressed [at Bucknell] in homes was academics, and we respected everyone but feared no one [on the basketball court]. These guys are like that."
Courtney was with the Hokies for one season and spent eight years as an assistant at George Mason under Jim Larranaga. George Mason reached the Final Four as an 11th seed in the 2006 NCAA tournament, and Courtney was a key recruiter.
Courtney originally joined Larranaga in the 1996-97 season as an assistant at Bowling Green. He began his college coaching career the previous season at American, and also spent two months on the staff at Virginia Commonwealth, one year at Providence and three years at Virginia.
After graduating from Bucknell in 1992, Courtney played in the U.S. Basketball League and for the Milwaukee Bucks summer league team. He also played in Hong Kong for two seasons.
Courtney inherits a team that returns 12 players but loses the bulk of its scoring: Ryan Wittman, the Ivy League's all-time 3-point shooter with 377; 7-foot center Jeff Foote; point guard Louis Dale; forward Jon Jaques, who had a solid senior season after barely playing his first three years at Cornell; and Alex Tyler.
Adam Wire and Kentucky transfer Mark Coury are among five seniors returning, but none had much playing time in 2009-10. Junior guard Chris Wroblewski will be looked to as a leader after averaging nearly nine points and more than 29 minutes last season. He also hit 54 3-pointers in shooting 45.4 percent from beyond the arc.
"I told our team I want to dream big. No one thinks we're going to be that good next year, losing all of those guys," Courtney said. "But I told them to put no limits on what they can accomplish because I certainly won't. This run has been the best in school history, but I like to think that the best is yet to come."