Paul Cormier says that Dartmouth is no longer an Ivy League doormat.
A year removed from its best Ancient Eight record since 2008-09, the Big Green are ready to cross the always thin line from rebuilding program to one that’s ready to compete.
“People are going to have to play well and prepare well now in order to beat us,” Cormier said. “That’s what building a program is all about. Every year just showing progress.”
Cormier is entering his four season as Dartmouth head coach. In his first two the team went a combined 2-26 in conference games. Last season, the number catapulted to 5-9.
The reason: experience. Cormier isn’t shy about admitting that added years is any team’s best friend in the grueling Ivy League season.
In Cormier’s second year at the helm – his first year with his own recruiting class – he started three freshmen and a sophomore. The team went 5-23. In this upcoming campaign, the Big Green will bring back all the pieces that lifted the team to three conference wins in its final four games.
“In that first year, what we had to do was change the culture,“ Cormier said. “We weren’t going to win a lot of games, but we could certainly work harder in the weight room. We could certainly be more disciplined on how we got about our training methods, and we could certainly teach and have them understand what sacrificing for the good of the team is.
The changed culture has led to an enhanced recruiting approach. Cormier said he’s able to recruit a higher caliber player, the likes of which he didn’t have access to when he first took over.
“When we were first here, we might not have been able to get into the living rooms of some of the higher profile Ivy League players,” Cormier said. “But we could sell playing time. For some kids that’s very important to them.”
This season the Big Green return sophomore Alex Mitola, who was tied for the team lead in scoring with Gabas Maldunas at 11.3 ppg. Mitola, who shot 39.2% from long range last season, said the Ivy League, better be ready for Dartmouth’s revitalization.
“When teams come into play us, or even when we go over there, in no way is that a gimme game, Mitola said. “Teams better show up to play. They shouldn’t be taking anything for granted. We’re coming after everyone.”
Along with several returning sophomores, the Big Green will have something that it did not last year: a senior. Though Tyler Melville will be the lone graduate after this year, his presence as a captain adds a new dimension to the Big Green.
Melville shot a career high 48.5% from the field last season, after connecting on just 39.1% the year before. Melville also led the team in free throw percentage at 83.6%.
“I definitely believe it’s part of my job as the lone senior and captain to help get the younger fellas on the same page as the coaching staff, and help them when they don’t understand certain plays, and really just step up as the leader,” Melville said.
Melville admitted he’s never been more excited about Dartmouth basketball. That’s a sentiment shared by many.
Cormier said that you could see the difference in practice. When there were only three or four good players, it was hard for him to match people up in scrimmages. Now he can mix and match however he pleases and has no idea who will win.
“When we go against each other, we’re pushing each other,” Cormier said. “And that’s when you start seeing even more progress and more improvement because every drill is more competitive, and everybody’s pushing each other. That’s a healthy environment.”
Last season Dartmouth showed people they were turning a corner. Now they’re ready to prove that they can win.