Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quiet man on campus

It's almost time for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, an event I've often milked for MoneyLaw material. I usually cheer against the Ivy League representative, because of and not in spite of my Harvard degree.

This year, though, I might make an exception if Cornell makes the field. Like Shane Battier, a professional player recently hailed on these pages, Cornell star Ryan Wittman plays for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back:

Ryan WittmanTo best explain Ryan Wittman’s productive yet humble basketball career at Cornell, Coach Steve Donahue points to Wittman’s socks.

When Donahue recruited Wittman, the son of Randy Wittman, a former N.B.A. coach and Indiana star, he worried about the locker room dynamic. Would the son of an N.B.A. lifer stand out? Would he wear all kinds of fancy gear? Would he act spoiled?

But as Wittman has emerged as a candidate for Ivy League player of the year, his career has evolved into a delightful paradox: he has stood out by blending in.

Wittman, a 6-foot-6 junior, never brings up his family’s basketball heritage unless he is asked. His teammates and coaches say they have never seen him wear N.B.A. gear, even those socks with the N.B.A. logo that are ubiquitous in college hoops. Instead, he epitomizes Donahue’s team-first ethos, which has turned Cornell, which is closing in on its second consecutive N.C.A.A. tournament bid, into an Ivy juggernaut.