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The Jones brothers warred constantly as kids, but today they are each other's best friend, even if it doesn't always seem that way. They play their roles. At certain times, on certain subjects, the big brother is willing to help the little brother. When Joe was preparing for an interview with Columbia's search committee, James gave him some important advice: "They've got to know that you know that the first thing you look at in a recruit is his academic record."
Of the two, Joe is more the showman. He might have to be. Columbia, in upper Manhattan on the edge of Harlem, is serious, cerebral and political. Its best sport is fencing. Joe has been seen handing out Columbia basketball T-shirts on campus. He has left students voice mail, urging them to come to games. Before the season opener against Army, he organized a Midnight Mania, a glorified pep rally. Columbia doesn't do pep rallies. Some 1,500 kids showed up. "I'm going to say something bold," says Columbia athletic director John Reeves. "We will win an Ivy League basketball championship within three years."
James is a basketball obsessive who goes to sleep at 11 p.m. and wakes up at 2 a.m. to watch a couple of hours of tape before returning to bed. "Joe's going to sell New York City to his recruits, but I tell my recruits, ' New York's a great place, but it's only a train ride away,' " James says. "I tell them that if they come to Yale, they become part of the Yale community and that our network of alumni is like no place else's." Earlier in his career he was a Bulldogs assistant. He's a believer.
Each brother knows what the other is up to. James knew which kid Joe was going to see in New Hampshire. They can't help it. It's in their blood. On Friday night Yale was in a dogfight with Penn. Late in the second half, during a timeout, Curtis Wilson, a Bulldogs assistant, leaned into his boss's ear and said, "I got scores—you want 'em?"
"What'd they do?" James asked
"They waxed 'em," Wilson said. That is, the Lions had unexpectedly pulverized Dartmouth 78-42.
Minutes later, it was big bro's turn. Yale beat favored Penn, 54-52, nailing two free throws at crunch time. When the game was all noise and whistles and frenzy, James was at his most focused, keeping careful track of the substitutions he wanted to make. A half hour after the end of the Yale-Penn game, the brothers were on their cellphones. "Your boys are going to have some bounce in their step now," James told Joe. "You just might win two on the road."
On Saturday night at Harvard's Lavietes Pavilion the 2,195 seats were half-filled and the atmosphere was quiet, except on the floor. Watching Joe, you would have thought he was coaching in the NCAA championship game. At halftime the Crimson was leading 36-31. The Columbia coach railed about one thing: rebounding. The Lions were not stepping on the Harvard players', uh, manhood. But they did in the second half and won 78-67. There was much whooping.
Joe wanted to call his brother but needed to know the Princeton-Yale score before he did. One of his assistants told him, "They lost by two." The Bulldogs had been nipped on a three-point play with three seconds left. "Ugh!" Joe uttered. Reaching for his phone, he said, "There's a younger-brother tone for this." He called, got James's voice mail and, sounding like a funeral-home director, extended his condolences. He concluded by saying somberly, "We played well in the second half and won by 10, something like that." Later, while a busload of jubilant Columbia players and coaches was chugging down 1-95 back to New York City and James was in his office, the brothers would have a full reprise of their basketball weekend.
Neither would mention their next game, this Friday night, at Payne Whitney, when Columbia visits Yale. The Joneses say they will treat the game like any other. For the Bulldogs and the Lions, the short, fierce Ivy League season concludes on March 6, when Yale plays at Columbia. In all likelihood, that finale will be for nothing more than pride—this year, anyhow. Still, it's a new day in the Ivy League. The word is out: If you want to win the league and get a ticket to the Big Dance, you need to get past the Joneses.