Yale trailed Columbia 57–58 with seven seconds left when guard Reggie Willhite ’12 drove to the basket for the game-winning layup to silence the crowd at Levien Gym last February. With Willhite and first-team All-Ivy center Greg Mangano ’12 now graduated, the Bulldogs will have to look to others to step up as the 2012–’13 season gets underway.
Yale will begin its 31-game schedule tomorrow against Sacred Heart University in the Connecticut Six Classic. Head coach James Jones said that the team is not concerned about the void left by Mangano and Willhite.
“I don’t think any kid on our team right now is thinking about the guys that were on the team last year and what they did,” Jones said. “Everybody is thinking about how this team and this group of guys can come together and play.”
Last year Mangano and Willhite took 45 percent of Yale’s shots, but other players still found time to show flashes of brilliance in the clutch. Guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 drained a three to bring the Elis within one and set up Willhite’s heroics at Columbia. When Yale played Cornell at home last season, forward Greg Kelley ’14 coolly watched a few seconds tick off the clock before calmly knocking down a three as the final buzzer sounded on Yale’s 71–40 victory. Guard Austin Morgan ’13 said that Yale will have to rely on each team member this year in order to succeed.
“We’ve been stressing depth and ball sharing,” Morgan said.
Morgan, who averaged 11.8 points per game last season, is the leading returning scorer for the Bulldogs. He finished fifth nationally last year with a .900 free-throw shooting percentage and fifth in the Ivy League with a .386 three-point percentage. Although Jones said that Morgan is the only player he has so far decided will start come tipoff tomorrow, point guard Mike Grace ’13 also started last season. Jones said he expects Morgan, Grace and Yale’s other perimeter players to get many more open shots this year.
“Greg [Mangano] didn’t really help our offense on the perimeter that much,” Jones said. “Because once Greg got the ball he shot it.”
Yale’s balanced offense will be challenged early on by a rigorous non-conference schedule. After Hartford, Yale will play at St. Joseph’s from the Atlantic-10 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and over winter break, the Bulldogs will take a trip to the West Coast to play Nevada from the Mountain West, St. Mary’s College from the West Coast and Iowa State from the Big 12.
Guard and captain Sam Martin ’13 said that playing against high-profile competition is thrilling for him and other players on the team.
“That’s why you play,” Martin said. “We want to play all the best teams in the country.”
Martin and Jones also said that playing against these teams will help Yale identify its strengths and weaknesses on the court before Ivy League play begins in January.
One of Yale’s opponents this year was ranked in the national preseason polls. No. 10 Florida will visit the Lee Amphitheater Jan. 6. Coach Jones said he was disappointed that the game will take place when Yale is still on winter break. He added that the game was originally scheduled for November but was moved when the Gators asked to reschedule.
Once the Bulldogs survive their non-conference tests, they will begin the two-month-long Ivy League season. Although Yale was picked sixth in the ivyleaguesports.com preseason media poll, Martin stated that he believes the Elis are underrated.
“The league is wide open,” Martin said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Yale finished fourth in the Ivy League with a 9–5 record and a 19–10 record overall last season. Tipoff tomorrow is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in West Hartford, Conn.
Correction: Nov. 12
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the men’s basketball team would open its season against the University of Hartford.