By SARAH SPAIN
Special To One Great Season
Thursday night when Cornell takes on Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, Hollywood better be watching.
Forget "Hoosiers," the tale of the Big Red taking on Big Blue has enough intrigue to make Oliver Stone commission the screenplay for "Any Given Thursday." Just look at the way the villain and underdog roles are already fleshed out.
A team that's won seven NCAA Championships and a team that’s only appeared in seven NCAA Tournament games. A bunch of "one-and-done" freshmen taking on a group of "one last run" seniors. A coach who's worked his way around the rules against a coach who's worked his way up the ranks. Kids playing for the scholarship money and a chance at the NBA and kids playing for the love of the game and a chance to take a break from studying.
The screenwriter won't need to create new characters, either; these Cornell heroes already boast dramatic Hollywood story lines.
There's sharp-shooter Ryan Wittman, son of former NCAA champion, NBA player and coach, Randy Wittman. With a little artist's license, Wittman's relationship with his dad could easily be played out as a "Varsity Blues" situation. "I don’t want ... your life." But some analysts already are giving Wittman a chance at just that; they think he could follow in dad's footsteps and play pro ball after graduation.
There's Mark Coury, who started 29 games at Kentucky before transferring to Cornell, where he's happy to come off the bench. With a little luck, Coury has a score to settle with a former teammate who gave him one too many swirlies in the locker room back in Lexington. Perhaps even better, the 6-9 forward, who will intern at Goldman Sachs this summer, might recognize a play from his days at UK and make the game-winning steal.
In every great sports movie, there's of course the late addition to the squad; maybe it's the team manager who reveals a cannon for an arm, a superstar from the girls' team who helps the boys win it all, or, as in the case of Jeff Foote, a transfer with all the right moves. Back in 2006, Jeff's mom Wanda, a nurse in Elmira, N.Y., treated an injured Cornell player and struck up a conversation with Coach Steve Donahue about her seven-foot tall son, playing ball at nearby St. Bonaventure. It wasn't long before Foote made the move to Cornell, giving the Big Red a key weapon in the paint to offset their deadly three-point shooting.
If "Any Given Thursday" is like your average sports flick, at some point the big, intimidating Kentucky team has to walk by the smaller, less flashy Cornell squad and hurl insults at them. Oh wait, that's already happened.
Two years ago UK and Cornell played in the same region of the tournament and a Wildcat said audibly of the Big Red team as the Wildcats passed by, "They look like a high school team." Throw that quote up on the bulletin board, have the boys slap it on their way out of the locker room before every game and you've got yourself another time-honored movie cliché.
The stage is set, the film is cast, now the only thing left to figure out is, how will it end?
Spain is a writer, reporter, TV host, die-hard Chicago sports fan and, if you can't tell, a Cornell grad. Follow her on Twitter @sarahspain.