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If Matt Preston has been overlooked by the Ivy League this year, it's for good reason.

Columbia's top forward saw only an average of 10 minutes per game in the Lions' dismal 2002-03 campaign -- hardly enough minutes to even study the guy on tape.

Columbia finished the season with just two wins, an overwhelming 25 losses and no victories in conference play.

Preston finished with a total of 39 points, 10 assists and six steals on the season -- and a determination to reverse the tragic destiny of Columbia men's basketball.

And so, the small forward from Wantagh, N.Y., stuck around campus for the summer to work on his game.

Needless to say, it has paid off.

Now in his junior season, Preston is leading Columbia in scoring -- with an average of 15.3 points per game -- and in attitude.

Under first-year head coach Joe Jones, Preston has found himself in a comfortable place on the court for the Lions.

Preston has become the resident master of what Jones calls "Columbia basketball" -- constant hustle, pressure, competitive spirit and determination.

"He doesn't just bring scoring to the team, but he brings toughness," Columbia sophomore guard Dalen Cuff said. "He just imposes his will a lot of the time on his opponents and it gets the job done."

In return for his efforts, the offense that Jones devised for his squad this season compliments Preston's abilities to a tee.

Columbia's offensive front is built on the principles of motion, and that only seems to work in Preston's favor.

At 6-foot-5 and only 215 pounds, Preston is significantly smaller than most of his competitors in the paint. Penn center Adam Chubb, for one, stands nearly half a foot taller than the Lions' go-to guy.

But Preston argues that his size only works to his advantage. Preston has learned through experience this season how to work his height for the better.

"Posting up is probably where I'm most comfortable," Preston said. "I've been able to really take advantage of guys taller than me playing my position. There's always a mismatch for me.

"If a guy's shorter, I'll post up on him but if he's taller than me, then I'll try to drive around him."

Preston's role on the court falls somewhere between a guard and post player, but regardless of labels, his versatility keeps opponents on their toes.

In Columbia's first matchup of the season against the Quakers, Preston led the Lions in scoring with 28 points -- the best performance of his career to date. In Columbia's overtime loss to Princeton, the unsuspecting forward led all scorers (along with the Tigers' Judson Wallace) with 23 points.

Now that Columbia is well into its season, and opponents have figured out that Preston is the man to watch on the Lions' squad, the forward is using the attention to benefit the rest of his team.

"Our offense is a lot of motion. ... It compliments a lot of the players on the team, but especially Matt," Cuff said. Preston "makes it easier for me to get open. If he drives and attracts two or three defenders, then I'm open for a three. It's easier for me, and the guys around him, to score."

Preston's savvy play is working against the top teams in the Ivy League -- and has propelled Columbia to a fifth-place ranking in Ivy play. Although being No. 5 out of eight teams is not ideal, it's far better than last year's abysmal finish.

For all of his accomplishments, however, it's unlikely that you'll ever hear Preston talk about them. He continually credits his teammates and Columbia's coaching staff for the successes of this season, while quietly admitting his role.

"He's not the vocal kid," Cuff said. "He leads a lot by example because he goes out there and plays hard all the time."

One thing is for sure: When next season rolls around, there will be plenty of film on Preston, and the rest of the Ivy League will be furiously studying it.

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