By William Bowman
The Daily Item
---- — Bill Courtney spent four of the best years of his life at Bucknell, making his mark in the classroom and on the basketball court, while soaking up enough knowledge from his old coach, Charlie Woollum, to become a pretty darn good coach himself.
And while he had many fond memories when he returned home on Saturday, the Bucknell Hall of Famer wanted nothing more than to make things miserable for the Bison faithful who pulled so hard for him two decades ago.
Now in his second season as the head coach at Cornell, Courtney and the Big Red did make life unpleasant at times for his alma mater, but the Bison found a way to win down the stretch to spoil Courtney's homecoming.
"When you get back on a campus where you spent four years and had some of the times of your life, that part of it was special," said Courtney, a 1992 Bucknell grad who was inducted in the university's Hall of Fame in 2007. "But once that ball goes up, you're not thinking about that. You're competitive and you want to win the game.
"Once the whistle starts, all you're thinking about is the game and trying to get the win."
The Big Red, despite not winning a game on the road so far this year, nearly pulled off a victory in a gym where the Bison have lost just twice in the last two years. Cornell lost 63-60 but had a pair of looks at a game-tying 3 in the final 10 seconds.
Courtney was introduced to an ovation before tip, and there is no question it was well-deserved. While many of today's players may not know what Courtney did, they might want to stop and look at the plaque that leads from their lockerroom to the Sojka Pavilion court.
There they can find out that Courtney scored 1,499 points in his four-year career under Woollum, a total that still ranks eighth all-time in program history. The 619 points he scored as a junior during the 1990-91 season is still the Bucknell single-season record, and his 14.6 career scoring average ranks 10th all-time. He is also still the school record-holder for career free throws made (400).
"I didn't know (they were going to introduce me). That was very nice," Courtney said after Saturday's game. "I tried to block that kind of stuff out and tried to get the guys to stay focused on the game."
Not only did Courtney, a two-time captain, put up great numbers individually at Bucknell, his teams were also successful. The Bison won 77 games in his four years, went to the NCAA tournament once and lost in the Patriot League final in his senior year.
The Cornell job is Courtney's first gig as a head coach. He took over last season when Steve Donahue bolted for Boston College after leading the Big Red to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Courtney's first roster was absent four starters from that team. He led Cornell to a 10-18 mark, but did win six of the final nine.
While the Cornell job is his first, he has certainly been around the block. He spent 15 very successful years as an assistant coach in some of the best conferences in the nation, including the ACC and the Big East. Since 2005, he has been an assistant at Providence, Virginia and Virginia Tech before moving to Ithaca last winter.
The Big Red is 4-8 in his second year -- and 14-26 in a season and a half under Courtney -- and things won't get any easier with a trip to Maryland tonight. But Courtney has won everywhere he's ever been, and he will win at Cornell. The Bucknell faithful will be pulling for him. Well, except for one night a year.
n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college basketball for The Daily Item. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/williambbowman.