After thousands of points, hundreds of assists and dozens of victories, senior men’s basketball guards Alex Gamboa ’05 and Edwin Draughan ’05 may find it difficult to believe that they are playing their final home games this weekend at John J. Lee Amphitheater.
But the Elis’ senior backcourt will have to suspend any lingering disbelief when they take the court against Cornell (12-13, 7-5 Ivy) Friday night and against Columbia (12-13, 3-9) Saturday night. The Elis (9-15, 5-6) will try to put the breaks on a three-game skid and avenge an early-season 87-82 double overtime loss at Cornell.
For Yale head coach James Jones, who took the helm the year before the arrival of Gamboa and Draughan, this is an ending he has preferred not to think about.
“I’ve tried not to think about much more than trying to beat Cornell, Columbia and Brown,” Jones said. “I’m not one to dwell on things, but when the game is over on Saturday night, it’ll be emotional for me. It seems like they’ve been with me since I’ve been here; certainly they’ve been a part of any success we’ve had. Having them leave the program is going to be difficult.”
Gamboa and Draughan form one of the most successful guard tandems in school, and arguably league, history. Both have been regular starters since freshman year, when they shared the John C. Cobb Memorial award for Yale’s most outstanding freshman and Gamboa was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
Since then, Draughan has scored the seventh-most points in team history, 1,358, and is fifth in assists with 332. Gamboa is third all-time at Yale with 154 three-pointers and sixth in assists with 324.
“It’s been a pleasure, playing with Edwin,” Gamboa said. “He’s an unbelievable basketball player and, more importantly, he’s become one of my best friends here. I’m just glad I got the opportunity to play with someone of his caliber. I’ll definitely be missing him out on the court.”
But if their careers must end, then the Elis will try to make them end with wins. Victory depends on their performance on the court against the surprisingly strong Big Red and the struggling Lions.
Cornell was picked to finish sixth in the Ancient Eight in the annual Ivy League preseason media poll, but the Big Red have held the second spot for most of the season and clinched a .500 record last weekend for the first time in eight seasons.
Columbia, in contrast, is in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. The Lions opened the season with three wins in their first four games, but they have not won since a 77-67 home loss to the Elis Feb. 4.
Jones, whose younger brother Joe Jones is the head coach of the Lions, said that one only has to look at Columbia’s schedule to understand the losing streak.
“Look at where they’ve played,” Jones said. “They start three and one, then they lose to us at home, then they lost a heartbreaker to Brown at the buzzer, then they go on a four game road stretch, then they came home and played Penn and Princeton. Their schedule has not been kind to them.”
The Elis know plenty about heartbreaking losses at the buzzer. Last weekend they suffered just that when Dartmouth guard Steve Callahan made an off-balance, underhand scoop shot off the glass as the buzzer sounded, giving the Big Green a 53-52 victory.
The Bulldogs lost to Harvard in an 82-66 drubbing a night earlier and they have lost three straight overall. The skid began with a 70-64 loss to Brown at home Feb. 22. Right before the skid, the Elis hit their highest point of the season with their fourth straight win in a 78-60 victory over Penn. The Bulldogs briefly took over second place and handed the Quakers their only conference loss of the season.
Center Dominick Martin ’06 said the team was left stunned by the rapid decline.
“It’s the high and low of the season,” Martin said after the Dartmouth game. “It sucks. There’s nothing else to say.”
Jones said that, despite the tough losses last weekend, he has seen more energy in practice this week than last.
“We look pretty good on the court,” Jones said. “Kids are a little more resilient than coaches are. They don’t think as much as coaches do about wins and losses. A couple players, Edwin Draughan specifically, have a little more bounce in the last few days than before the Harvard game last week.”
The Bulldogs will play without freshman guard Eric Flato ’08, who suffered a shoulder injury when he hit the floor hard last weekend against Harvard. Flato, who will take over for Gamboa next season, has emerged as a solid point guard and clutch three-point shooter, and he was instrumental in the Elis’ four game winning streak. Jones said there is no reason to test Flato’s shoulder this weekend.
“Eric is doubtful for this weekend,” Jones said. “He doesn’t have a lot of strength in the tests they’ve done on his shoulder. If he was a senior, and this was his last weekend, he’d probably play. But with all the information I have, he’s doubtful.”
Gamboa will be left to control the point alone, just as he has since his freshman year. He has been a starter for all four seasons.
While the Bulldogs can still finish in second place if they win their remaining three games, Penn (17-8, 10-1) secured the Ivy title last Saturday night in a victory over Columbia. It is Penn’s third title in the last four seasons, and its ninth in the last 12.
The Elis play their final game on the road against Brown next Tuesday.