East Xtra: Plum grad doing well at Cornell

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Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon leans on the bearings of a basketball hoop at the Greentree Sportsplex, casually watching the summer league basketball game being played in front of him while talking to a couple other local coaches.

Most of his own players are in the gym participating in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am, but the one guy who elicits a response from Dixon is the one player in the league who attends an Ivy League school.

As the tall, well-built shooting guard pulls up for a deep 3-pointer, Dixon raises his eyebrows and looks toward the baseline, asking a few media members present, "Is that the Cornell kid?"

When someone answers yes, Dixon nods and smiles while looking back toward the court, saying, "The kid can shoot."

In a summer league filled with players from powerhouse conferences and programs, Cornell's Nolan Cressler might be getting the most attention. Official stats aren't kept in the summer league, but by one unofficial count, the former Plum High School player scored 38 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in one game last week.

He got to 38 by shooting 8 of 13 from 3-point range, impressive even in a league where defense isn't placed at a premium.

So yes, the kid can shoot.

"I think he has unlimited potential," said Bill Courtney, Cressler's coach at Cornell. "We've basically given him the green light on offense to take shots. I think when you have that type of ability, there's no telling what he can accomplish here. I'm hoping in the next few years he becomes all-league and the type of player who challenges for player of the year in our league."

Cressler is a big 6-foot-4 wing, with broader shoulders than most guards his size. He plays the shooting guard/secondary ball-handler in Cornell's three-guard system, so he got a lot of opportunities to score during his freshman season.

In 31 games, Cressler averaged a little more than nine points per game -- good for fourth on the team -- and shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. He started about a third of Cornell's games, having a roller-coaster type of season, which is normal for freshman players. The campaign started with him leading the team in scoring off the bench in his first collegiate game with 20 points all the way to enduring a typical midseason freshman swoon that saw him score 15 points total in five games.

Courtney envisions Cressler, as a sophomore who now knows what to expect, to be one of the team's leading scorers next year. His shooting alone might get him to that point. Still, the coach is looking for him to work on his defense and creating his own shots off the dribble during the pro-am league in the offseason.

"Defense is an area he needs to work on," he said. "I think every high school player makes that adjustment to college, especially for scorers because they have to shoulder so much of the load on the offensive end, learning how to play defense at a high level. A lot of it is playing against higher level players, too, who are quicker, stronger and faster.

"He's figuring it out. He got better as the year went on and hopefully that progression continues as he comes into his sophomore year."

Out of high school, Cressler had interest from several Patriot League schools, but jumped at the chance for an Ivy League education. This summer, the dichotomy of that situation is pretty clear. Cressler is playing against guys who don't have to worry about the same things he does during the school year, things such as professors who couldn't care less that their student also happens to be an athlete.

Courtney said his team schedules practices around study sessions and meetings with teachers, not the other way around. That doesn't often happen with schools in the Big East.

"It's a lot different," Cressler said. "It's crazy. I haven't been to another school so I wouldn't know first-hand, but from what I hear, our professors hold us to such a high standard that it can be really stressful. Once you get the hang of it, though, it's skills you'll be using for the rest of your life, so it will pay off eventually."

After impressing the Ivy Leagues in his first collegiate year, Cressler is spending the summer impressing Pittsburgh, and maybe not just for his shooting.


Everett Cook: ecook@post-gazette.com and Twitter @everettcook


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