For the men’s basketball team, practice has not made perfect just yet.
Since practice officially began a little over two weeks ago, head coach James Jones has trained his players five days a week — including 6:30 a.m. practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays — but neither the coaches nor the players are completely satisfied with the team’s progress.
“We have a ways to go before we’re ready to play somebody,” Jones said.
Jones said he assumed the Bulldogs’ veteran lineup would be further along by this time. Although he has been watching some game tape already, Jones said the team would not begin preparing for its first opponent, Oklahoma State, until a week before the Nov. 22 game. Yale will face Vermont on Nov. 9 in a preseason scrimmage.
But Oklahoma State is certainly on the minds of team members. Jones distributes a practice schedule to his players daily, and at the bottom of Wednesday’s schedule were big bold letters: “Oklahoma State #1.”
Captain Chris Leanza ’03 was similarly apprehensive about the team’s progress.
“If you’re satisfied, you get a little complacent,” Leanza said.
Leanza could not point to one specific area that needs improvement, but instead stressed that the team still needs to come together and avoid resting on its laurels.
“We don’t want to let last year’s success get to our head,” Leanza said.
Fittingly, Jones picked “teamwork” as the word of the day for Wednesday’s practice. The word “huddle” was printed in bold type on the practice schedule.
Teamwork factored into the Bulldogs’ clockwork practice schedule, particularly in the middle of the session. From 4:38 p.m. to 4:48 p.m., the team ran the “Bulldog #2 Scramble,” a team defense drill. From 4:48 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Elis practiced defending screens, and from 5 p.m. to 5:12 p.m., the team executed a 4-on-4 shell, another team defense exercise.
All three of these drills divided the team into three groups. While two groups practiced, the third huddled, working to build team identity.
Yale, last year’s Ivy League co-champion, returns its entire roster this winter. But so far, injuries have prevented everybody from playing together.
The front court has been hit especially hard, with injuries keeping forwards Mark Lovett ’05 (knee), Mike Smith ’04 (knee) and Paul Vitelli ’04 (groin) off the Lanman practice courts. Big men Josh Hill ’04 (hernia) and T.J. McHugh ’03 (ankle) also are injured, but have been recovering and were on the floor for Wednesday’s practice.
In addition, Princeton transfer Dominick Martin ’05 will have surgery on his broken wrist today, though he is not eligible to play this season because of NCAA transfer regulations.
Leanza, who took a beating in Wednesday’s practice but managed to emerge without serious injury, said the injured players were still contributing through their sideline support and words of encouragement.
“They make their presence known at practice,” Leanza said.
Leanza said this year’s rookies, post players Dextor Upshaw ’06 and Juan Wheat ’06, also were working hard to help the team and make the adjustment from high school to college.
“It’s a huge transition,” assistant coach Ted Hotaling said.
Hotaling was impressed with the rookies’ effort and said the upperclassmen were helping the freshmen settle in.
“We have good senior leadership,” Hotaling said.
Hotaling commended the returning players for their improved games, but said he would not be able to tell where the team needs to focus until the Vermont scrimmage.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s really glaring,” he said.
The practice concluded with a 20-minute half-court scrimmage.
Usually, practice concludes with conditioning drills. But with a 6:30 a.m. practice looming ahead today, Jones released the team early.