PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Having waited 54 years to make the NCAA tournament, the Yale Bulldogs are determined not to allow the news swirling around dismissed team captain Jack Montague to affect their experience.
Earlier this week, a lawyer for Montague released a detailed statement disputing claims that the senior had assaulted a woman on campus. Instead, lawyer Max Stern said Montague was being used as a 'whipping boy' by a school that recently settled a federal complaint over its handling of sexual assault cases and that the former player would sue the school.
Yale faces Baylor on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"We're focused on playing basketball,'' junior Brandon Sherrod said. "Obviously we know these questions will come up, and we'll answer them as candidly as we can, but we're here to play basketball and win a game. I think if we do that, maybe the pressure of answering these questions might go away.''
Montague's dismissal and lawsuit have cast a strange shadow as Yale has waited nearly six decades to return to the tournament -- the longest drought for any team with at least one berth.
The Bulldogs sewed up their automatic bid on the last weekend of the Ivy League season with a victory over Columbia on March 5.
Though they've been annual visitors to Providence to face Ivy League rival Brown, this trip has been different. The Bulldogs took pictures of the Dunkin' Donuts Center court upon arrival, marveled at the endless supply of drinks in the locker room and smiled at the nameplates hanging above their individual dressing spaces.
But they also were clearly uncomfortable answering questions even tangentially related to Montague's situation.
Both senior Nick Victor and junior Anthony Dallier deflected anything related to Montague with a "no comment." Dallier even offered a "no comment" when asked whether he'd been instructed not to comment.
Sherrod and senior Justin Sears were the only players willing even to broach the situation with Montague, who was initially suspended from the team Feb. 7.
"This is every kid's dream ... every kid that plays Division I basketball,'' said Sears, who added that he is equally as unoccupied by his pending thesis on Rwandan genocide. "Nothing is going to distract us from that."
Sherrod said he didn't know whether Montague, who lives in Tennessee, would attend Thursday's game. Earlier this year, Sherrod told ESPN that Montague remained a regular on the team's group text chain, but that was before the senior retained a lawyer.
"Our focus is on playing basketball,'' Sherrod said. "And we're focused on the guys we have here."
Coach James Jones echoed that message.
"I've been the head coach at Yale for 17 years,'' Jones said. "This is the first time we've made the tournament since 1962. We are one of the best defensive teams in the country. We are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. So I think that's a great story. And I'd like to tell that one going forward."