Blue Madness insights from Yale coach James Jones

Yale’s Blue Madness scrimmage on Thursday night was a fun and loose affair for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.  Unlike the Cornell Red-White Scrimmage earlier in the week, there was little chance for anyone to get injured.

After introductions of both squads, the two teams held a three-point shooting contest, with Blake Reynolds defeating Jen Berkowitz in the finals.  In the slam dunk contest, Trey Phills captured his second team title, defeating Jordan Bruner in the finals with a 360-degree jam.

During the men’s scrimmage, Yale Sports Network’s John Ryan had a 20-minute courtside conversation with coach James Jones.  Since the audio was poor throughout the evening, below is a summary of what the coach had to say about his team as it heads into the ‘17-’18 season.

  • His teams always focus on three things: defending, rebounding and sharing.  Right now, the squad isn’t great at any of these things, but that is usual for this time of the year.
  • This year’s team is good but can be great if it stays healthy. Also, it is really important for the team to have togetherness.  This year’s team will have to develop chemistry, especially since Makai Mason will be returning after a year, Reynolds will have a new role, and Bruner will be starting.
  • Offensively, the team did well from three in nonconference play (37.8 percent; 8.1 points per game), but not so well in the league (33.1 percent; 6.2 per game).  He has a number of players who can hit threes (Mason, Miye Oni, Blake Reynolds), but he is not wedded to taking a large number of these shots.  His team’s reliance on the three will be dictated more by the results on the court than a strategic philosophy.
  • Defensively, the team was not as strong last year as it was in two year ago.  The ‘15-’16 squad, one of the nation’s top rebounding teams, was led by seniors (Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod and Nick Victor), while last year’s group was relatively inexperienced.  While the offensive numbers were around 75 points a game the last two years (74.2 points per game in ‘16-’17; 74.9 in ‘15-’16), last year’s defensive numbers were worse than the previous season (69.9 points per game in ‘16-’17; 63.8 in ‘15-’16).  Since this year’s team is still young, the coach is expecting improvements in that number, even if it does not reach the level of ‘15-’16.
  • Many teams in the conference have gone to a small-four style, but Yale has no intentions of changing its play.  Coach Jones plans on playing two bigs (Reynolds, Jordan Bruner, Jameel Alausa, Paul Atkinson) and wants teams to adapt to his squad, instead of the other way around.
  • Last year, he basically played a seven-person rotation.  While he still plans on a similar rotation this year, the team’s depth may cause him to change to a larger group.
  • With regards to the team’s challenging nonconference schedule, the coach feels the biggest positive is that those teams are capable of exploiting any of his team’s weaknesses.  As a result, he and the team will be able to work on those problems before the league schedule.
  • Jordan Bruner (sophomore forward) – He was one of the best players last preseason, before he injured his knee.  Wearing the knee brace throughout last year caused him to be less aggressive, especially under the basket.  With the brace off this season, he will have more confidence and play more aggressively.
  • Makai Mason (senior guard) – He has not had a lot of practice (while dressed, he only participated in the team introduction).  He still has the same quickness from two years ago, but he needs to work on his defense.  If he is 100 percent by the start of the season, he will start.  If not, then he may need to be eased into the lineup.
  • Miye Oni (sophomore guard/forward) – He is capable of putting up 35 or 40 a night.  He is athletic, strong and tough.  He’s a good passer who is unselfish and makes everyone on the team better.
  • Blake Reynolds (junior forward) – He has been tremendous in preseason practices. Offensively, he can be better than Sam Downey because he can shoot the three at a high level.
  • Trey Phills (junior guard) and Alex Copeland (junior guard) – He expects them to play at a similar level as last year. Phills is the team’s best defender and Copeland is very good scorer.  He will use them based on their strengths, but both junior guards will have to earn their playing time with this year’s team.
  • Jameel Alausa (first-year forward) – He is very athletic with strengths of rebounding and defending.
  • Paul Atkinson (first-year forward) – He scores at the basket.  He is similar to Reynolds in his ability to hit the three well and stretch opposing defenses.
  • Azar Swain (first-year guard) – He’s an assassin from the outside and a good perimeter defender.
  • Jalen Gabbidon (first-year guard) – He is injured and expected to be back in January.  He is athletic, quick and can shoot the three.  

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