The NCAA Tournament's Best Students: Cornell's Ryan Wittman

U.S. News caught up with one of the Cornell basketball team's best players—and students.

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When Ryan Wittman arrived at Cornell for the 2006-2007 school year, he already had a basketball reputation to uphold. Wittman's father, Randy, is a former Indiana University basketball star who won a national championship in 1981 and was the 1983 Big Ten Player of the Year. Randy also played nine NBA seasons and has coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Succeeding academically at an Ivy League university was an extra challenge for Ryan Wittman. But Ryan has more than lived up to all the hype and expectations that come with being an NBA coach's son. He was a unanimous All-Ivy League selection last season as a sophomore and the Ivy League Rookie of the Year the year before. He has gotten it done in the classroom, too: In addition to his All-Ivy League honors last year, Wittman added an All-Ivy League Academic selection to his name.

Playing basketball at an Ivy League school can't be easy. How did you adjust to that level of difficulty when you got to Cornell?
It's definitely an adjustment coming from high school and going to college—not just the Ivy League but college in general. You have to use the first few weeks to get used to things. Especially being an athlete, you have to learn to use the time between classes because you don't have a lot of time available to get everything done.

The Ivy League plays a traditional Friday-Saturday schedule to help athletes avoid missing class. Does that alleviate some of the time issues that you might have if you played more during the week?
Yeah, it's a little easier once conference play starts. You don't miss a lot of classes. Guys do a little more work on the bus before conference play. It's really tough during nonconference play because we play whenever, and we travel a lot. So you have to use that travel time well.

There are a lot of requirements and tough standards to be accepted as an athlete at an Ivy League school, which was brought to light after Harvard's recruiting issues made national news last year. What kinds of things did you have to do to make sure that you'd be allowed to play at Cornell?
I just prepared myself during high school. I took some pretty tough classes, so I was ready for this. I just came in and learned ways to be successful.

What is your major?

Why'd you pick business?
Because you can keep it basic. I'm thinking about marketing or finance.

What do you want to do when you graduate?
I'll play it by ear. You're making me feel old with all this talk about careers. [Wittman laughs]. I'd like to keep my options open for now and see how things go the rest of this year and next year.

What do you do with your free time? Are you reading anything or following anything on TV?
Right now, a few of us on the team are catching up with Lost. I've been watching that a lot. Every time I read in my free time, I feel guilty that I should be reading something for class, so I haven't been doing much reading this semester outside of the required stuff.

What was last year like when you had to deal with the NCAA tournament for the first time?
I know this year is [going to be] tough—this was the last week before spring break, so it's usually a pretty crazy time period. I think guys just have to stay focused and try to survive this week.