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Immobilized by COVID-19, Yale ponders what could have been

Yale won’t have a chance this year to try for an Ivy League three-peat.

NCAA Basketball: Yale at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, Yale was well positioned for an Ivy League three-peat, but an unsurprising announcement from their conference put that achievement on hold.

The Ivy League announced the cancelation of fall and winter sports for the 2020-21 season earlier this week — a decision unanimously made by the Ivy League Council of Presidents. Until that announcement, the league was scheduled to start its season in January, but a lot of Yale players were uncertain about what would actually happen. A significant amount of them decided to take a leave of absence.

“We had a conversation with each player and their families to discuss their individual situations,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “In the Ivy League, if you’re in school it counts as one of your semesters and you only get eight. So if you’re in school and we don’t play, you lose that opportunity.”

Only six players are currently on campus, but even that small group isn’t able to do any workouts together as the entire athletics department has reverted to Phase 0 of its pandemic reactivation plan due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the hockey team.

Before that outbreak, the basketball team was doing some conditioning and individual non-contact workouts. Online meetings are the main thing still happening right now. The entire team does a Zoom meeting once a week, and players also do another weekly meeting with a coach and other members of their graduating class.

College basketball insider Jon Rothstein listed Jones as a head coach on the rise, saying it’s “not an oversight, it’s an insult” that he doesn’t get talked about more often. Jones has proven his success by winning the Ivy League in four of the last six years. The coach said he was excited about coaching this upcoming season because his team had all the right pieces to do something special.

“It’s always good when someone thinks you’re good,” Jones said. “It makes sense too though, we won the last two championships in a row, four of the last five. We have the Player of the Year coming back, another First Team All-League player coming back and the Defensive Player of the Year.”

Jones will miss out on the chance to coach Paul Atkinson before he becomes a graduate transfer. Atkinson was the Ivy League Co-Player of the year as a junior while averaging 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. The 6-foot-10 power forward also recorded four double-doubles and six games with 20+ points in conference play.

The team would’ve also counted with Co-Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Gabbidon, and Azar Swain who joined Atkinson in the 2020 First Team All-Ivy. All three of them were going to play as seniors with a roster filled with other experienced players.

It’s a disappointment that Jones, last season’s Ivy League Coach of the Year, won’t get to coach this specific group of players, but he prides himself in always having a positive attitude.

“As the Good Book says, this too shall pass,” Jones said. “We just have to make sure we’re tough enough, strong enough to fight.”