Regardless of how hard the players hit the weight room over the off-season, the men’s basketball team will have a bigger look when they return to the hardwood next fall.

Head coach James Jones has recruited a trio of big men to fill the Yale basketball class of 2006. Jones said Dexter Upshaw (6-foot-6, 230 pounds), Alex Craft (6-9, 205) and Juan Wheat (6-7, 230) have all been accepted to Yale and together will make an already effective Bulldog frontcourt much better. The addition of next year’s freshman class and 6-9, 225-pound Jerry Gauriloff ’05 — who, suffering from a back injury, played only six seconds all season — will give Yale the chance to seriously challenge teams with size.

“We’ll have the ability to play a little bit different. We will be able to player two power guys [at once],” Jones said.

While the success of Yale’s frontcourt of starter T.J. McHugh ’03 and reserve Josh Hill ’04 surprised many, the new additions can make Yale a deeper, more talented team both offensively and defensively in the low block.

The most impressive of the bunch may be Upshaw, a bruising power forward.

“Dexter Upshaw is a steal for us,” Jones said. “He was under-recruited and he is going to be a very special player.”

Southwest Texas State, Lamar University and the University of Pennsylvania were other schools interested in Upshaw. One of the top players in the Houston area, Upshaw averaged a double-double, 22 points and 12 rebounds, this season for Oak Ridge High School. Those points were generated mainly in the low-post, and Jones said Upshaw, with his strength and ability to establish position, has the potential to be a great post-up player in the Ivy League.

“He will never quit. He is relentless,” said Rob Stewart, Upshaw’s high school coach. “It is amazing how many times he gets his own offensive rebound and puts it back in.”

Upshaw describes himself as a hustle player, banging for the rebound and diving on the floor for the loose ball. He comes to Yale with a strong work ethic, evidenced by his development off the court.

“He is probably the hardest worker that we have had in the last 10 years,” said Stewart, noting the work in the weightroom that helped transform Upshaw from a 6-foot-4, 10-pound freshman to a 6-6, 230-pound senior. “He has made himself into a real strong player. He is going to be a Charles Oakley type.”

Upshaw said he did not originally consider attending an Ivy League school until Jones came into the recruiting picture.

“We were sitting down at the in-home visit, and [Jones] said ‘When you come up for your visit, when you first see the campus, you are going to fall in love with it,'” Upshaw said. “I came on campus, it was beautiful, and I saw that it was the place for me.”

Upshaw may find a friend in a fellow recruit from the Lone Star state, Alex Craft of Corpus Christi.

Averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game this year, Craft led Flour Bluff High school to an undefeated regular season while earning All-Metro Most Valuable Player honors from the Corpus Christi Caller Times in the process.

Jones said Craft’s best asset is his versatility, being able to score in the low post and step out to hit down the outside shot.

According to his high school coach, Glenn Rotzler, Craft’s versatility does not stop when the possession arrow reverses.

“He was a pretty dominating player on both ends of the floor,” Rotzler said. “He learned how to play hard without getting in foul trouble. He has always been a pretty good defensive player, but he was in foul trouble a lot doing it. He finally figured out it is just as good to change the shot as to block it.”

The 6-foot-9, 205-poind Craft drew interest from Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, Rice and a number of Ivy League schools, his coach said.

Rounding out the recruiting class is Juan Wheat, another body Jones can throw at teams in the low post. Jones said the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward out of Seventy-First High School in Fayetteville, N.C., will be probably the strongest player the Elis suit up next year.

“He’s the kind of guy who dunks it every time he is near the basket,” Jones said. “We don’t have anyone like him.”

Jones said Wheat also drew interest from Brown and Davidson.