SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Naturally, expectations in recent years for Dartmouth have been raised. That happens when you put together a couple of good recruiting classes like the Big Green has done in recent years. And when you consider that the program struggled for a while before Paul Cormier took over for a second stint, part of expectations rising comes from them having nowhere to go but up. All the while, Cormier is taking a measured approach to what he and his staff are doing in Hanover these days.
“It’s basically developing a program,” Cormier said when asked if this is an important year for the program’s core group. “The two (seniors) that are remaining, John (Golden) and Gabas (Maldunas), have gone through some tough times, and it’s nice to see them now being able to be in a competitive situation every game, game in and game out.”
Indeed, when Cormier came in, the program was in rough shape. It lacked talent once Alex Barnett graduated, and as such it basically lacked a fighting chance in most games. The Big Green now have much more talent thanks to some good recruiting, giving them more of a chance.
This is an important year for Dartmouth given their core. The Big Green has run off a couple of nice recruiting classes in recent years, and those players are now juniors and sophomores along with their current freshmen. In addition, whereas last year – a year where they were ravaged by injuries, especially up front – was a year where no one was likely to top Harvard, this year the Ivy League is very much there for the taking. It’s a year where this team can win more games and establish winning experience together.
The Big Green wasn’t going to contend with Harvard last year, but the injuries hurt because key development time was lost. In addition, Maldunas may not fully trust his knee after a torn ACL shelved him for much of last season, although he has played well as their top rebounder.
Cormier says he and the team are starting to figure things out, especially in terms of what everyone can do. The most important thing, as they demonstrated in their win at Bryant last week, is that they have to move the ball and move well without the ball. At times they put on an offensive clinic from doing both at a high level, and that drove them to the win.
“I think they’re all starting to get the identity of, we’ve got to be on offense a team that shares the ball,” said Cormier. “When we do that, I think we have a shot at being a decent team.”
Added junior Connor Boehm: “With anything we do, if we try to go one-on-one, it’s not as effective as passing the ball and getting open shots working late into the shot clock.”
Dartmouth isn’t loaded with athletes who will break you down off the dribble, like a lot of Ivy teams. They have two good point guards, leading scorer Alex Mitola and the consummate pass-first guard in Malik Gill, and both find a way to run the show well. Neither Golden nor Boehm will do the same, and few others can do that on this team.
The glue that holds this team together has been Boehm, a guy who won’t leap out at you at first glance. He’s not their biggest, strongest or most athletic player, and Cormier would describe him similarly. But he’s a key guy all the same, and on occasion it shows up with a big scoring game, but usually it doesn’t. Apparently, the former seems to happen often in Rhode Island, as he has four career games with 20 or more points, and three have come in Rhode Island. Cormier notices the biggest difference when Boehm comes out of the game.
“He just is a presence, that’s the word I always use to describe him, and as soon as that presence is not there, we struggle,” said Cormier. “I didn’t sometimes realize it, either, because in the stats, he’s solid, but nothing special. But if you take him out of the game, and you coach him, you realize how important he is to this team.”
The core of this team, largely the junior class of Boehm, Mitola, Gill, shooter Kevin Crescenzi and forward Tommy Carpenter, had to play big minutes right away because they were instantly the team’s most talented players. They didn’t get to adapt to Division I at a pace, which also meant some losses early on, although there were some wins that gave reason for hope. The thinking now is that the early experience is helping them as they hope to do better in league play this year.
Dartmouth is in the midst of another long layoff before they begin Ivy League play against Harvard in Hanover on Saturday. After that, league play doesn’t begin in earnest for another two weeks, and they play two more non-league games in that time. That means there is still some time to further refine their identity, and then try to take more steps forward as a team and a program in a league that has been on the upswing in recent years.
“We haven’t been competitive in the league over the time I’ve been here the second time,” noted Cormier.
The Big Green are hoping to change that this time around. Cormier noted that they ramped up the schedule this year, so clearly he felt this team would be more ready for the challenges ahead. We’re about to find out if that is truly the case, and they will now become competitive in the league once again.