James Jones is the 22nd coach of Yale men’s basketball and is in his 12th year at the helm of the team. In that time, he has compiled a 149–175 overall record and a 83–71 record in Ivy League conference play. In 2001-’02, Jones led the Bulldogs to their first Ivy League title since 1962-’63 and led Yale to the second round of the National Invitational Tournament. This season, Jones has coached the team to a 7–7 record that includes a 75–67 win at Boston College. Jones talked to the News about Saturday’s start to the Ivy League season at Brown and the advantages of not having one specific “go-to” scorer.
Q Your team is halfway done. You’re halfway to the finish line. How does it feel?
A Well I hope that we’re not halfway done. I hope that there will be more playing out there than the next 14 games that we have. I like a lot of the things that we’ve done so far. I felt that some games have gotten away from us, and we could have been a little bit more successful in them. But hopefully, we learn from those, and they won’t happen over the next fourteen and that we win those that we should win.
Q You hit a rough patch during the break and lost three straight to Sacred Heart, Stanford and Lehigh. Why was that and what do you think your team learned from those losses?
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A Well, they’re three different games so there wasn’t one reason why we lost all three. There were probably several reasons why we lost all three. I think what we learned from the games was just an understanding of having to play our best in every game. I think that’s going to be something that is very important. Our post play wasn’t great in those games. Greg Mangano ’12 struggled a little bit, and we’re not going to be very good if he’s going struggle. We have to make sure that he’s able to play to his capacity and the level that he should be playing at, and the other players on the team have to complement him. But certainly he’s a big part of what we do.
Q Greg Mangano ’12, Reggie Willhite ’12, Austin Morgan ’13, Porter Braswell ’11 … It seems like all of the guys can be the MVP of your team on any given night. What does that flexibility bring to you?
A It just makes us hard to guard. When you have several guys who can lead you in scoring, it makes it difficult for the opposing team to shut anybody down. From that standpoint, it’s good. We have somebody stepping up every game which is important for us. Greg doesn’t have to lead us in scoring. His post play is very important to us, but that doesn’t mean that he has to lead us in scoring. He just has to make good decisions when he gets the ball because he’s the focal point of our offense.
Q Your team lost its captain, Michael Sands ’11, before the season. Who has stepped up to fill that leadership void?
A Everybody has jumped in from the seniors to the freshmen to add a little bit more leadership, and that’s been really helpful because I think that guys saw the opportunity and the necessity for us to be better at our leadership, and the guys have responded really well.
Q Several of your players have talked about how close-knit this year’s team is on and off the court. How does that translate during practice and during the game?
A I just think that when you have a group of guys who enjoy being around each other and genuinely enjoy being around each other, it’s easier to play for each other. I think that makes it great when you’re playing for the guy next to you in the locker room, the guy next to you on the bench, the guy next to you in the game. When that matters to you, that helps you to be successful.
Q Before the season, your team was picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League. Where do you think your team can finish and what will it take to make a run at the Ivy League title?
A Well, we can almost finish anywhere, I think. A lot of it is going to be up to us and how consistently we play. As for where we’re going to finish, that’s kind of hard to say. We’ll get a good look this weekend and see how we play against Brown, and then we’ll ratchet up and do it again next weekend. I think that we have as good a shot as any to win it. We may not be as talented as some other teams in the league, but on any given day, I think we can beat anybody. But on any given day, other teams can beat us too. Playing consistently and playing together is going to be really important.
Q The conference season starts this weekend against Brown. What are your thoughts about Brown?
A They’ve played some teams pretty well. They had a good win up against Maine. They beat Fordham to start the year. They certainly have the capability of playing at a high level. We’re going to be on the road at the start so we’re certainly going to have to try to exceed their intensity especially on their home court. They’re a good basketball team and coach Agel does a great job at coaching, and we’re going to have to play well to win it.
Q On a personal note, you’re in the midst of your 12th season as the head coach of Yale men’s basketball. What have you thought of your tenure to this point and what are your goals for the future?
A I don’t think much about stuff like that. I think about what I’m doing right now with this team. After I leave here, I guess that I can think about my tenure, but when you’re in it, it’s kind of hard to think about what you’ve done. In terms of what my goals are, our goal every year is to try to win a championship. We’ve done that and we’ve tried to every year. We’ve had a nice run in the sense that we’ve been in the top half of the league for the last eleven seasons in a row. We just need to continue to try to get a little better every year to push forward and be one of the best two teams every year.