Bulldogs, Bears and Ivy League basketball will all be on display Saturday night at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
When the Elis (4-9) open conference play against Brown (7-7), it will be the 134th meeting between these two teams, with Yale holding an 89-44 advantage. But Brown has won six of the last seven meetings, including back-to-back victories last season in the first two weeks of Ivy League competition. In the preseason Ivy League poll, the Bulldogs were picked to finish third behind Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, while Brown was ranked fourth.
Head coach James Jones has led the Elis to conference records of .500 or better in each of the last four seasons, finishing 7-7 last year. He says he intends to keep that streak going.
“The first game is always important,” Jones said. “It’s important to get off to a good start. That said, anything can still happen [even if we do lose]. It’s still a 14-game tournament.”
The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game coming off a disappointing home loss to Saint Peter’s, 79-68, in which opposing guard Keydren Clark, the third-leading scorer in the country, dropped 28 points on the Elis. This weekend, the Elis will face Brown guard Jason Forte, who Jones said is the only player comparable to Clark in the Ivy League.
Forte is the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and leads all Ivy League players in scoring (17.4 points per game) and is second in assists (4.67 per game). Forward Dexter Upshaw ’06 said that on the court, all of the Eli players will have to keep an eye on Forte.
“When Brown comes down the court in transition, we’re going to have to find [Forte],” Upshaw said. “Everyone is going to have to help in terms of stopping him. He wants to go straight to the basket. What we’ve got to do is force him east and west rather than let him go north and south.”
The Elis will answer with some firepower of their own. Senior guard Edwin Draughan ’05 leads the Yale squad in scoring (15.4 points per game) and needs only 13 points to become just the 12th player in school history to reach 1,200 career points. Complementing Draughan in the back court is captain Alex Gamboa ’05, who is averaging 11.6 points per game. Rounding out the Elis’ top three scoring threats is 6-foot-10-inch center Dominick Martin ’06, who is third in the Ivy League in scoring (15.3 points per game) and second in rebounding (8.0 rebounds per game).
The other Eli starters, forwards Casey Hughes ’07 and Sam Kaplan ’07, are both new to the every-game starting role this season and both have been averaging a solid nine points per game.
Brown head coach Glen Miller said his team has its work cut out for it against the Elis.
“It’s going to be a very difficult task for us to come down to Yale and get a win,” Miller said. “You’ve got to get the most out of every possession, both offensively and defensively. It’ll be a big challenge stopping Martin inside and Gamboa, Draughan and Hughes on the outside. I think the team that can make the most defensive stops is going to get the win.”
In last season’s first match-up, the Ivy opener, defensive stops were precisely what the Bulldogs lacked in the waning minutes of the game. The Elis led by six points with 13 minutes remaining, but by the end of regulation the two teams were knotted up, 63-63. The Elis scored the first basket in overtime, but the Bears responded with a 10-0 run to put the game out of reach. The Bulldogs fell 85-75. Forte led both teams with 26 points on the night.
The two teams met again one week later in Providence, R.I. The Bears again came out on top, this time more decisively, as Forte’s 22-point performance led Brown to a 77-65 victory.
Both teams’ starting five look different from last year’s. The Elis lost five seniors and two starters in the off-season. Kaplan and Hughes filled the void. The Bears lost three players to graduation and play a very young team.
“We’re just far less experienced [than last season],” Miller said. “We have one senior, one junior, four sophomores and nine freshmen. I would guess it’s one of the youngest teams in the country.”
But the Bears’ seven non-conference victories this season marks just the third time in school history that the team has won seven or more non-league games in a season. The Elis, meanwhile, struggled against very challenging non-conference opponents — a fact Miller recognizes.
“I have a lot of respect for Yale,” Miller said. “I think they have a talented team. They played an extremely difficult schedule, and they fared well. They have a nice rotation and good experience — and good balance.”
In preparing for Brown, the Elis had to practice Monday and Tuesday without Gamboa, who was out due to illness. But Upshaw said there was a lot of energy in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and that the Elis will be ready. They have to be, Upshaw said.
“This is the first game, and it sets the tone,” Upshaw said. “If we can come out with good energy and start the game off right and start the season with a statement, it will give us momentum on the road four games from now. The worst thing you can do is dig yourself a hole and try to play catch-up for the whole season.”