November 11, 2009

2009-10 Season Preview: Bulldogs Optimistic As Opener Approaches

Season Opens Friday Against Sacred Heart At Connecticut 6 Classic

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The 2009-10 Yale men's basketball team will have a new look. Five players who combined to score nearly 2,000 points and grab 1,100 rebounds have graduated. Nevertheless, James Jones, who is in his 11th year as The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Men's Basketball, has high expectations. The Bulldogs have finished in the top half of the Ivy League in each of the last nine years, including a second-place finish last year. With a talented roster, Yale figures to again be in the hunt for the Ivy League title. That quest begins when the Bulldogs play Sacred Heart on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the first game of the Connecticut 6 Classic at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

"This is probably the most inexperienced team I've fielded during my time at Yale," Jones said. "We have seven juniors and seniors, but they haven't played a lot. We're counting on some guys to step up."

Here is a closer look at the 2009-10 Bulldogs:

BACKCOURT

Senior Alex Zampier, the team captain, is the most experienced returner and anchors the backcourt.  Zampier, who starts the season needing 360 points to reach 1,000 in his career, led the Ivy League in free throw percentage (.848), finished eighth in scoring (13.2 ppg.) and earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition last year. He was named to the preseason All-Ivy League team by Blue Ribbon. Junior Porter Braswell started 13 games at point guard last year and was second on the team in three-pointers (17), third in assists (56) and fourth in steals (23).

Senior Jordan Gibson should emerge as Yale's defensive stopper. He was one of only four players to appear in all 28 games last year, and his 14 blocks were second on the team. In addition, he had 20 steals. Gibson also is capable of contributing on offense as evidenced by his 5-of-7 shooting night from the field in the Bulldogs' victory at Penn.

One area the team hopes to improve on is three-point shooting. Yale made only 29.6 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc in 2008-09. Junior Raffi Mantilla and sophomore Brian Katz, both excellent shooters, should help in that area. Mantilla appeared in a career-high 19 games off the bench a year ago, while Katz showed promise before an injury ended his season prematurely.

Three freshmen could make an impact on the backcourt. Point guard Michael Grace (Winston Salem, NC) was an all-state selection as a senior at Mt. Tabor after averaging 19.6 points, 8.4 assists and 4.3 steals. Sam Martin (West Warwick, RI) was named the most valuable player of the New England Prep School All Star game in March after scoring 21 points and adding five assists and three steals and Austin Morgan (Reno, NV) is Reno High School's all-time leading scorer with 2,046 points.

"Alex Zampier is one of the top returning backcourt players in the league," Jones said. "He along with Jordan Gibson and Porter Braswell will carry the load for our team.  We have a great deal of depth in the backcourt and we will call upon our underclassmen to help shoulder the burden as well."

FRONTCOURT

Depth in the frontcourt is the biggest question facing the Bulldogs with the graduation of Ross Morin and Travis Pinick, who were both second team All-Ivy selections. Fortunately, there is talent returning. Senior Paul Nelson is a big (6-10) and athletic center. He appeared in a career-high 27 games and had personal bests in points and rebounds last winter.

Junior Michael Sands and sophomore Greg Mangano figure to see regular playing time in the front court as well, although Mangano may miss time early in the season due to an injury. Sands was fourth on the team in rebounding last year, while Mangano was the recipient of the John C. Cobb Award as the team's top freshman. Senior Josh Davis hopes to make a successful return after missing virtually all of last season with an injury. He has played well in the preseason, according to Jones. Sophomores Rhett Anderson and Reggie Willhite both gained valuable experience in their rookie years and could make a greater contribution this winter.

"With the departure of our entire starting frontcourt, we will be somewhat inexperienced," Jones said. "Paul Nelson, Mike Sands and Greg Mangano lead the way with Josh Davis, Rhett Anderson and Reggie Willhite helping to add depth to the positions."

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity

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