The sporting rivalry between Yale and Harvard dates back over 140 years, and Yale head coach James Jones understands its history and significance.
"It’s something that's bigger me," he said. "It's bigger than my team and it's bigger than us as individuals because of the history of it."
Jones is entering his 18th year as head coach at Yale and is an imposing figure on the sidelines, though he looks 10 years younger than he actually is. He credits his youthful look to his daily run over the past decade and says his family has benefited from the good genes of his father.
"He’ll tell you that too," he said of his father. "As well as how good looking he is."
Making the tournament for the first time in Jones’ tenure at Yale was an accomplishment on its own, and the Bulldogs' first-round upset over No. 5 seed Baylor made it that much sweeter.
"It was tremendous and something that Yale nation won’t soon forget," he said. "It was all it’s cracked up to be."
Prior to the Baylor match-up, Jones and his team received an unexpected source of motivation from Yale alum and current governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo.
"She talked about how she was an underdog going into her [election] race and how she ended up coming out on top and felt that we could too," he said.
The Yale vs. Harvard rivalry has never been more intensified than it is now after the Bulldogs won the Ivy League and made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 54 years. Yale’s appearance at the big dance ended a run of four consecutive years in which Harvard had represented the Ivy League at the NCAA tournament.
After hovering just above the .500 mark for the better part of a decade, Jones pointed to the Bulldogs' success in conference (13-1) as the main factor that elevated the school's perception going forward.
Junior guard Makai Mason will be counted on next year to lead the charge for the Bulldogs in their attempt at repeating as conference champs. Mason became a national darling after he dropped 31 points on Baylor in the tournament and averaged 16 points and 3.8 assists per game during a season that saw him named first team all-conference. Mason had declared for the NBA Draft following his successful season but later withdrew and opted to return to Yale. He should be in the conversation for Conference Player of the Year going into 2016-17.
Jones also pointed to senior Sam Downey to be a major contributor for the Bulldogs this season. The 6-9, 230-pound forward sat behind the now-departed Justin Sears, who was the Ivy League Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons, but his head coach expects the big man to step up in 2016-17.
In the back-and-forth game of poker between Yale and Harvard, the Bulldogs went all-in this year and came out victorious. However, as a show of their own innovation and resourcefulness, the Crimson have upped the ante for next year by bringing in a top 25 recruiting class, and are also in the running to land the No. 2 recruit in the country for 2017 in Wendell Carter Jr., who has the Crimson on his list of final eight schools.
Jones hopes he can have similar success on the recruiting trail.
"I can certainly see a trend happening where high level players do seek out the opportunities at schools like Yale because of what it's going to mean for them for the next 40 years of their life," he said.
Doing so would mean keeping pace with Harvard, and in turn, elevating Yale and the league as a whole.