Two short seasons ago, the Yale men’s basketball program was staring up from the bottom of the Ivy League standings. A sluggish campaign recorded 22 losses — the most ever by a Bulldog squad. A floundering program seemed to be spiraling further downhill, and an Ivy League title, something the Elm City has not seen since 1963, was nowhere in sight.
But the triumphant return of head coach James Jones has changed the face of Ivy League basketball. Long considered an also-ran in a league Pennsylvania and Princeton have dominated for the last four decades, Yale was expected to win few league games this season. The departure of their leading scorer Onaje Woodbine ’02, fans agreed, sealed that fate. A pre-season poll picked the team to finish last in the Ivy League.
But improbably, the Bulldogs are now tied for first place in the Ancient Eight with two weeks left in the season. Their 28-point victory over Dartmouth Friday was the team’s biggest conference victory in 27 years. With their weekend wins, Yale swept both the Crimson and the Big Green for the first time since 1983. Records continue to fall by the wayside as Jones’ team shocks team after team in the Ivy League.
After recruiting only one class — the current crop of freshmen — Jones and his staff have transformed the team into a legitimate contender for an NCAA tournament berth. In addition, the decision of a top national prospect to commit to Yale will alter the landscape of Ivy League basketball. After years of losing better recruits to the perennial powers Penn and Princeton, Jones has landed Edwin Draughan, the best recruit to arrive at Yale in a decade. It is yet another testament to the rapid improvement that the program has witnessed in the past two seasons.
Jones’ meticulous, intrepid scouting of opponents ensures the team has a chance to win every time it steps on the floor. More importantly, he has the Bulldogs convinced they can win every game, confidence absent in previous years. The coaching staff has also done a laudable job of helping players harness their talent.
With this growing momentum, the Elis have a chance to make Yale basketball history, something that could never have been imagined a mere two years ago. The first weekend of spring break will be Yale’s final homestand of the season — and it will also be their most important with the Quakers and the Tigers coming to town.
Both of our competitors gain a huge home advantage with their raucous crowds, Penn in the famed Palestra and Princeton at the Jadwin Gymnasium. Yale’s student body needs to fill the John J. Lee Amphitheater in order to give the Bulldogs that same advantage.
Before you head off to that tropical resort, remember, the hottest action will be right here at home.