What’s up people? I hope everyone is doing better than me since I’m dying of boredom in the waiting room of the doctor’s office right now. To prevent myself from falling asleep in this chair, I think now would be a good time to do a recap of my sophomore year. I know most people outside of the Yale-sphere aren’t aware of why I am visiting the doctor but I’ll make sure to get to that later in the post.
To start, my sophomore year at Yale was my most successful one academically and athletically in my short stint here. Building off my crazy freshman year, I wanted to make sure I learned from my many miscues and took better advantage of all the university had to offer. The experiences from my freshman year and summer playing basketball in NYC with my teammate Armani Cotton, gave me the extra confidence I needed to have success this year. It also did not hurt that I was living in a single since my sleeping schedule is non-existent and I have been told I talk in my sleep when I am not snoring loud. My bad to my travel roomy Sam Downey.
Anyway, our basketball schedule this year was filled with a variety of tough competition. Six of the teams we played were able to achieve a berth in the NCAA tournament. The highlights from playing against teams of this level were innumerable. Some memories that standout from the non-conference slate were the trip to Georgia to play Mercer in front of a sold-out crowd (Mercer beat Duke in the second round and more than half my team called that upset.), playing at UCONN against Shabazz Napier, and my favorite by far was my homecoming to New Jersey to play Rutgers.
Even though my minutes were limited with foul trouble and we lost the game in heartbreaking fashion, the trip back home was well worth it. Playing in front of my family, friends, and people who followed me in high school was huge since many people haven’t had the opportunity to see Yale basketball play. In the loss, our PG, Javier Duren had a huge game and was able to show the crowd back home that Ivy League basketball is legit. I can’t go anywhere at home without someone asking about his flattop, (He shaved it off unfortunately.) but the heart and toughness we showed against Rutgers helped increase the Yale Basketball following in my home state.
Our popularity also increased on campus once Ivy League season began. We sprinted out to an 8-1 start and were tied for 1st place in the league with Harvard. Out of the 32 D1 conferences, the Ivy League is the only one without a postseason tournament to decide who goes to the NCAA tournament. The automatic berth to the tournament is given to the Ivy League regular season champ, which means this is traditionally the only way an Ivy League team can make the Big Dance. Our early lead in the standings was big news in New Haven since we haven’t made the tournament since 1962. Sheesh. With the extra buzz around campus, attendance at our games steadily increased. We even started to receive some recognition from our professors and school administrators as some players received shout outs in class and lecture halls. Any Ivy League athlete knows this is a huge feat since athletics is not valued as highly compared to other high-major institutions. The success we were seeing at this point in the season had us focused on making history for our school.
Unfortunately, the wear and tear of the season caught up to us, as fatigue and injuries stalled our Ivy League title hopes. We were fortunate though to be able to earn a bid in the College Insider Tournament (CIT) to gain some valuable post-season experience. The CIT experience was great since we played a few teams we usually wouldn’t play. The coaches were able to experiment with the lineups, and we also didn’t have the added pressure from the Ivy season looming over our heads. This freedom or feeling of looseness to play basketball let us make a deep run in the tournament. Our first game was against our crosstown rival Quinnipiac in the “Battle for Toads”, a popular dance club on campus the two schools share. We were able to secure a victory on my 3-point bank shot. Before you say anything, I did call bank. We continued with a win over Holy Cross and then beat our Ivy League rival Columbia for a second time in front of a standing room only crowd in NYC. With that win, we had advanced to the semifinals and had to go down south to play Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and eventually Murray State.
Outside of my many visits to Disney World in Florida, I wouldn’t really say I have been able to experience southern culture or even the real “South”. My teammates Nick Victor and Jack Montague are the country boys on the team. They lead the power struggle in the locker-room to play country music. They always talk about their cowboy boots, the Southern Belles, laid back attitude in the south and most importantly the BBQ. The trip to Mercer, then back down to VMI and Murray State was a culture shock for me. The people were so nice and welcoming before the game but once the game started, a wave of passion for their team swept over these people. I have never seen a fire and level of competitiveness in people for a basketball game. Games were considered a family outing as babies were dressed down in their respective schools colors and gears. I wish I could repeat some of the colorful insults that were hurled at our team but regardless, the overall dedication to their teams added to the fun of each of these games. I can only imagine what game day is like at an SEC football game.
Playing against VMI was one of the more unique basketball experiences I have ever had. If you do not know, VMI is consistently the highest scoring team in the nation as they averaged 89 PPG this year. The team pride itself on its frenetic pace and freedom for players to take the first shot they like in the offense. My coaches are against this change in our offense since I would exclusively shoot 3’s five seconds into the shot clock. This game was supposed to be a track meet since they were averaging over 100 points in their last three games. It also did not help that the game was made mandatory for the Cadets on campus. The gym that day was filled with 5,000 anti-Yale fans. Fortunately, we stuck to our game plan and slowed the pace down as we took a double-digit lead in the second half.
Midway in the second half was going to be the end of my sophomore year. Inspired by making Sports Center Top 10 plays earlier in the month for a dunk against Harvard, I thought I could replicate it again against VMI. It proved unsuccessful as I was fouled hard when I went for a dunk and fell on my right wrist. I was done for the year with a partial ligament tear in my wrist but my team was able to finish the game strong to advance to the finals against Murray State. It was tough to watch from the sidelines but my teammates fought hard in a loss to Murray State.
We were disappointed again by another second place finish but there was much to be taken from the year. The CIT gave the team valuable postseason experience and this confidence will be carried into next year as we only graduate two seniors and unfortunately lose Brandon Sherrod for a year to the famous Whiffenpoofs acapella group. Our team was also one of the more successful Yale teams in recent history and we began to slowly change the on campus culture for the team. The support we received throughout the year was phenomenal and many people have stopped me on campus to say they will be attending more home games in the coming season. This is exciting since we are poised for another strong year and look to challenge Harvard again for the Ivy League title next season.
Personally for me, one of the best things to come from this season was my injury. With a partial ligament tear in my wrist, my right hand was wrapped in a splint for 7 weeks forcing me to use my non-dominant left hand. You do not know how hard life is until you are only able to use one hand and on top of that your weaker hand. I made a fool of myself in the dining halls since I could not manage to stab anything with a fork and made a mess with all the food that did not make it from my plate in to my mouth. With more repetitions each day with my left hand, my handwriting became legible, my basketball skills improved dramatically and most importantly, I was able to eat like a civilized person in public. The injury had proved to be a blessing in disguise as my left hand has managed to become my dominant hand in the 7 weeks off. The doctor cleared me to use my right hand but I think I am going to stick with the left-handed lifestyle. My father and Javier refuse to acknowledge me as a fellow southpaw but with time they will warm up to it.
I have kept you guys a little long. Thank you to all who showed the fortitude to make it this far in the post. Hopefully The Basketball Diary will keep me around for another post. Until then, catch you guys later.
P.S. Still trying to get that follow count up. So give me a follow on twitter @Jussears5. My tweets are sure to make you laugh or a little bit smarter.
About The Writer: Justin Sears is a Political Science major at Yale University. He averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in his freshman year. This past season he averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds as a sophomore. Below is his sophomore year highlights.