Although the season didn’t finish as hoped, the men’s basketball team showed its grit by overcoming challenges and breaking records.
When Head Coach Matt Langel met with his team for the final time this season, he acknowledged their frustration while maintaining positivity. They had just learned that the NCAA prematurely ended its season and the Raiders wouldn’t have the chance to play in the National Invitation Tournament because it was canceled.
Langel made sure to recognize the team’s successes, despite the circumstances at hand. No Colgate team before has ever broken the program record three years in a row for most wins. They finished this season with an overall record of 25–9 and a 14–4 mark in Patriot League play.
“Even though it wasn’t the perfect ending, this team went on a great journey, achieved so much, and it was an incredible season,” Langel tells Colgate Magazine.
Three upperclassmen reflect on how they got to where they are today.
Athletes often refer to their team as a family, and Jordan Burns ’21 is willing to take it even further by saying Colgate’s men’s basketball team “is the closest group of guys in the country.” He attributes that to the coaches fostering a close-knit climate and the University’s rural location. Plus, the players genuinely like each other, Burns says, and that’s contributed to their success. “If you don’t like the players you play with, you can be talented, but it’s hard to win if you don’t trust each other. We really love each other, and that’s why we’ve been able to win so many games.”
“We’re looking for guys who are talented… but we also need guys who are committed to the hard work and the challenges — those who are able to overcome adversity and difficulty.”Matt Langel, head men’s basketball coach
Burns even rooms with teammate Nelly Cummings ’22. “He’s my brother now,” says Burns, who has gone home with Cummings to visit his family in Pittsburgh, Pa. “His mom is my mom; my mom is his mom. We’re really close.”
Rapolas Ivanauskas ’20 adds, “We all click together. Especially this year, we put our egos and selfishness aside and played well. We wanted to be a great team rather than great individuals.”
The team’s familial feeling became apparent to Will Rayman ’20 when he first visited Colgate in high school, and it’s the reason he made the University his top pick. He and his mom traveled to Hamilton to see the campus and watch a practice. Langel invited them over to his house for a barbecue, joining two student-athletes who were being recruited. Even though Rayman wasn’t there on an official visit, he says, “They made me feel like I was at home.”
Rayman started high school at 6-foot-4, “not very athletic,” and his coach predicted he would be a Division III player. Then in his senior year, Rayman grew 4 inches, improved his athleticism, and attracted the attention of Colgate’s coaches. At the time, the Raiders did not have an academic scholarship available for him, and the coaches thought he needed more preparation, so they suggested he attend prep school for an extra year and then come to Hamilton. It was a tough decision for Rayman, who was excited to enter college and was being recruited by Loyola University Maryland.
“But I wanted to go here; I didn’t want to go anywhere else,” he says.
Rayman decided to spend a year at New Hampton School, competing against some of the top players in the country — some of whom are in the NBA right now. “It was an unbelievable experience. I was ready to be a Division I basketball player,” he says. He remembers committing to Colgate on June 27: “It was an important day.”
This season, Rayman was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. He became the first player in Colgate history to score 1,800 points and 900 rebounds.
Burns also had to overcome challenges to make it to Colgate. “I’ve always been the smallest guy,” says the 6-foot-tall guard. What Burns lacks in height, he makes up for in speed and moxie, exploding down the court before his opponents can catch up.
“We all click together. Especially this year, we put our egos and selfishness aside and played well. We wanted to be a great team rather than great individuals.”Rapolas Ivanauskas ’20
Noting that he wasn’t a top-10 player in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, Burns says, “most people didn’t believe in me besides my own family.” So, he put in overtime at the gym and studied the game intensely. “I wasn’t blessed to be the tallest or most athletic, but I constantly worked to become the person and player I am today,” he says. “I have that dog mentality — I’m going to take what’s mine, and nobody’s going to stop me.”
This season, Burns was the leading scorer for the Raiders, averaging 15.8 points per game. In the Legends Classic Subregional Championship against Green Bay, he scored 40 points — a tournament record and career high. He also ranked third in Colgate history in career assists (418).
Ivanauskas spent his first two years of college at Northwestern University and was looking for a fresh start when he transferred to Colgate as a junior. At Northwestern, the player didn’t get much game time because of constant issues with shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation), which led to two surgeries.
Determined to make the most of his second chance at Colgate, last season Ivanauskas was named Patriot League Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and garnered All-American honors — making him the first Raider to be given both of these recognitions since Adonal Foyle ’98 in 1997.
This season, Ivanauskas played center for the first time — a decision the coaches made after last year’s seniors graduated and they evaluated the team’s strengths. Although the new position was a learning curve for Ivanauskas, he became more comfortable throughout the season. “Our team defense improved immeasurably this year, and his defense was a big part of that,” Langel says.
Colgate coaches work hard to help their players reach full potential. “Part of that is looking at the big picture,” Langel says, “by helping them improve individually and figuring out a way to take advantage of their abilities and talents together.” When they’re assessing new recruits, Langel says, “We’re looking for guys who are talented and have the skills and athletic abilities to have success, but we also need guys who are committed to the hard work and the challenges — those who are able to overcome adversity and difficulty.”
The Ball’s in Their Court
As students left campus mid-semester to finish their classes online, Rayman was making plans to also continue training at a court near his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. His post-graduation goal is to hire an agent and play professionally.
Eventually, the educational studies major would like to become a college basketball coach. “I want to have an impact on the next kid,” Rayman says. “Not just on the court, but in their lives too.”
At Colgate, “my coaches have done so much for me,” he says, adding that he and Assistant Coach Dave Klatsky have “probably watched over 100 hours” of basketball games together. And Langel, Rayman says, is “like Yoda” because of his knack for reading situations and offering dependable advice. “I’ve gone to him with problems, and he’ll give me an anecdote that’s changed my life completely,” Rayman says.
Burns still has another year to decide which direction his life will take after Colgate. In the meantime, he’s trying to influence the next generation. On visits home to San Antonio, he speaks to middle and high school student-athletes about giving their all in the classroom and on the court. Burns tells them to “treat education how you treat the game of basketball and work hard in all aspects of life because the game could stop any day, but your intelligence lives on.”
Ivanauskas knows firsthand that everything can change and that “the game — something I love so much — can be taken away.” Because of his injuries at Northwestern, he missed the remainder of his first season. So, after this season, he still has one year of eligibility remaining. At press time, Ivanauskas was settling in at home in Barrington, Ill., weighing his options. As someone who tries to take a mindful approach, he says, “My mentality is, ‘What can I do today? How can I be a better player, a better person, and maximize today?’ And if I do that, it’ll all work out, I think, in the end.”
Taking life day by day, being our best, and celebrating the good: It’s a mindset we can all embrace in these strenuous times.
- Won his third-consecutive Patriot League Coach of the Year award. Now in his ninth season, Langel is the first head coach in Patriot League history to receive this honor three years in a row.
- NABC District 13 and ECAC Coach of the Year honors in 2018–19
- 2000 graduate of UPenn’s Wharton School of Business
- Played professionally in Europe for Chêne BC in Switzerland, ALM Évreux Basket in France Pro A, the MBC and Hagen in German Bundesliga I, and the Eiffel Towers
- 2020 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year; 2020 All-Patriot League first team; named to the All-Defensive team for the second consecutive season; All-Patriot League second team in 2018 and 2019; 2017 Patriot League Rookie of the Year; 2020 NABC District 13 second team
- First player in Colgate history to score 1,800 points and 900 rebounds; second in program history in scoring (1,836 points)
- Choosing an educational studies major: “I wanted to understand why people are the way they are, what backgrounds they came from, and how that affects them in the learning environment.”
- Senior thesis: “The Court to the Classroom,” a look at how coaches can contribute to student-athletes’ academic achievement
- 2020 All-Patriot League second team; 2019: Patriot League Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and garnered All-American honors
- Speaks six languages: Lithuanian, Russian, Spanish, German, French, and English
- Choosing a history major: “You get to go back in time, put yourself in other people’s shoes, and see how things were. You also see how similar we are to some situations. Like they say, history repeats itself. To listen to the stories when people foul up, and how we can learn from that — it gets me excited to think about.”
- Leading scorer for the Raiders this season, averaging 15.8 points per game; he ranked eighth in the Patriot League
- Third in program history in career assists (418)
- Became the only non-senior to make the All-Patriot League first team this year; All-Rookie team in 2018 and second team in 2019; 2020 NABC District 13 first team
- Scored 40 points in the Legends Classic Subregional Championship, a tournament record
- Choosing a sociology major: “The study of people and societies is so interesting —including how we view gender, race, and religion. It’s valuable in knowing how to interact with people and realize where people are coming from.”