While the average Yalie was attending review sessions for midterms, members of our men’s basketball team were being lectured on how to conduct themselves during their weeklong tour of China. To start the season this year, the Elis flew to the other side of the globe, tallying two victories over the University of California and the Chinese University All Stars during the trip.
And that was just the start of what is sure to be a wild season for Yale men’s basketball.
The Bulldogs briefly returned to campus, only to haul down South to Memphis, falling in double overtime in a nationally televised game. And this weekend Yale travels to Florida to battle the University of Miami in the American Airlines Arena — the 21,000 seat home of the Miami Heat.
Just a week after that, the Elis will once again venture south to take on the nation’s top program: the Duke Blue Devils. Duke set the sports world ablaze at the start of the season, torching Kentucky for 118 points on the way to a 34-point trouncing. The Blue Devils stuff their starting lineup, this year alone, with more future NBA players than most schools have ever produced. This year’s cohort of future NBA ballers includes human highlight reel Zion Williamson, commonly mistaken for a Ford F-150, and RJ Barrett, who scores like he is playing arcade basketball at Brother Jimmy’s. Williamson and Barrett are the first two off the board in most NBA mock drafts. Oh, and the third pick in those mock drafts, Cameron Reddish, also laces up for the Blue Devils.
Crazy as it sounds, this is not the first time some of our players have battled Durham, North Carolina’s NBA pit stop. In the 2015–16 campaign, we played Duke twice: in the regular season and in March Madness. As the conference champions in 2016, we qualified for the National Tournament for the first time in 54 years. In our first-round bout at the Big Dance, the No. 12 Elis shocked No. 5 Baylor. In the next game, the Elis faced four-seed Duke, a roster loaded with talent including Grayson Allen, first overall pick in the tripping mock draft, and Brandon Ingram, the second pick in the actual draft and current Laker. Yale fell behind by 27 in the second quarter and finished the first half down 23. But we mounted an almost improbable comeback, outscoring Duke 39–23 in the second half, clawing to within three with under a minute remaining and falling in the end by only seven.
Much will be the same and much will be different this time around. Our team, unlike theirs, has continuity in the roster. That is to say, unlike them, our first years remain until their senior year, and this year’s seniors were first years when Yale played Duke in 2016. Duke’s players will be different, but the challenge will be the same. Once again, it is a team loaded with talent. Once again, as we did in the regular season in 2015, we will play in the legendary Cameron Indoor Stadium on the court strangely named after their not only living but still coaching Mike Krzyzewski. And once again, the stadium will be packed with 9,000 loyal Duke fans going crazy for their players, most of whom have zero reciprocal loyalty.
But it is all of these challenges that we seek in forming a schedule of this nature.
“With our non-conference schedule, each year we try to create adversity,” said Yale head coach James Jones. “We want to be challenged, we want to identify flaws, then have time to correct them before the Ivy league season begins. The China trip, playing on the Miami Heat home court and playing down at Duke among other games on our non-conference schedule will do all we want and more. Our young men will come away with lifetime memories and learn more about themselves and our team than they ever thought possible.”
But the best part of the schedule is neither the trip to China, nor the game on the Heat’s court, nor the game against Duke. The greatest aspect is that, this year, the Ivy League Tournament will be held inside the stone walls of Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
I can’t wait to storm the court.
Kevin Bendesky | firstname.lastname@example.org