Helped Guide Bulldogs To 51 Wins, Two Second-Place Finishes
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - For seniors Josh Davis, Jordan Gibson, Paul Nelson and Alex Zampier, the memorable moments of their Yale basketball careers are pretty similar - a victory over Penn at the Palestra; Stanford's visit to a sold-out John J. Lee Amphitheater; trips to eventual Final Four participants UCLA and Kansas. But some of the most unforgettable times were off the court.
"Most of my top memories happened on a regular day, just hanging out with the guys on the team," Zampier says. "I think for a college basketball team we have been very close for all of my four years."
"I will miss my teammates. Each and every one of them," Gibson says. "They are my family."
The four seniors will be together - at least for games - just twice more when the Bulldogs host Columbia and Cornell this weekend. They have combined to help Yale post 51 victories, including a 31-24 mark in Ivy games, and record a pair of second-place finishes.
"These four young men have given their heart and soul to the program and have handled themselves with the class and dignity you would expect from a Yale Bulldog," says James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Men's Basketball.
The four will be honored prior to the start of Saturday's game against Cornell.
Despite the great memories, there have been hardships. Davis has had a number of injuries that have hindered his ability to play. This season, he worked hard to overcome a shoulder injury that limited him to two games as a junior. He was a major contributor for much of the season, establishing career highs in games played, points and rebounds, but suffered another injury against Dartmouth on Feb. 15 that will keep him from playing in his final weekend.
"Things didn't exactly go as I expected," says Davis, who is still working on his post-graduation plans. "It has truly been challenging, but it has also shown me that I can overcome any obstacle by working hard."
Gibson, who also may miss this weekend with an injury, faced a crossroads following his freshman season when he appeared in only nine games.
"I didn't know if I was going to make it in this program," he remembers. "It was either quit or give it my all. I worked hard and came back a different player in my sophomore year."
Since then, Gibson has been a very valuable contributor -providing a spark off the bench in his sophomore and junior seasons and as a starter this year, often guarding the opponent's top scorer. He is third on the team in scoring (7.8 ppg.) and fourth in rebounding (4.1 rpg.). Against Charlotte in the NIT Season Tip-off, he scored a career-high 25 points, and he reached double figures in scoring in each of the first three games, including a 14-point, nine-rebound, six-steal effort against Sacred Heart. As a junior he was one of only four players to appear in all 28 games and second on the team in blocked shots (14). In his sophomore year, he played in 25 games.
"I grew up through Yale Basketball," says Gibson, who plans to teach following graduation. "I learned how to really work hard for something."
At 6-10, Nelson probably garners the most attention around the Yale campus. He has been a steady contributor on the Bulldogs' front line throughout his career, appearing in nearly 100 games. This season he has started 17 games and is in the top-10 in the Ivy League in rebounding (5.5 rpg.) and blocks (24). In addition, he has posted three double-doubles, including a 10-point, 11-rebound performance in a win over Hartford. His intimidating presence in the middle has been a big key to Yale's success.
"I'm going to miss the adrenaline rush from a blocked shot or dunk," says Nelson, who hopes to continue his basketball career following graduation.
Like Davis and Gibson, Nelson has had to face adversity.
"Basketball is full of highs and lows," he says. "When things are going well, there's nothing better, and the opposite is true as well. Each year has brought new, original challenges and lows. I'm proud of the fact that I have faced adversity and, with the help of my teammates, persevered for four years."
Zampier's impact at Yale was felt almost immediately. Early in his freshman season in a game at Navy, he was forced to play point guard in the second half after an injury sidelined Eric Flato. Zampier responded by scoring 10 points and handing out four assists as the Bulldogs rallied to defeat the Midshipmen.
Zampier, this year's captain, has gone on to have an outstanding career. He is Yale's all-time leader in steals with 163 and set a new single-season steals record this year with 55. His 128 career three-pointers are the eighth most in school history, and his current free throw percentage (.814) is tied for the fourth best at Yale. Earlier this season, he became only the 23rd player in school history to score 1,000 career points. This year, he leads the Bulldogs in scoring (17.2 ppg.), three-pointers (48) and steals (55). In the season opener against Sacred Heart he scored 35 points against Sacred Heart, the most by a Yale player since 1983. As a junior, Zampier earned honorable mention All-Ivy recognition, and he has played in 106 games at Yale.
"I definitely benefitted from playing basketball at Yale," says Zampier, who hopes to play professionally in Europe. "There is nothing better in my eyes than a college basketball game and playing with my best friends is something I will miss greatly."
There is no question the bond between the Class of 2010 will continue well beyond their time at Yale.
"I never expected to find a band of brothers like I have," says Davis "I'll remain in contact with these guys for the rest of my life."
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity