Rarely does a team elect as its captain a player coming off a season in which he missed half his team’s games and averaged only 3.6 points per game off the bench.
Then again, rarely does a team have a player like Chris Leanza ’03.
Leanza, who has struggled through the effects of a shoulder injury during his three seasons at Yale, was elected captain of the 2002-03 men’s basketball team by his teammates Tuesday night. Leanza replaces Ime Archibong ’03, who was captain of the seniorless team this past season.
“It is such a prestigious honor for my teammates to think I deserve this,” Leanza said. “[This year] was really tough — I had never sat out of a game before in my life. I think my teammates saw how hard it was for me and how much the game means to me and how much the team means to me.”
This year, Leanza missed the first half of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. He returend for the start of the Ivy season, but the effects of his injury showed as his outside shot consistenlty came up short.
But in the final games of the season, he showed glimpses of his old self. In Yale’s National Invitation Tournament win over Rutgers, Leanza hit a trio of back-breaking 3-pointers late in the second half to lead the Elis to victory.
In his sophomore year, Leanza started every game and averaged 13.3 points to lead the team. He earned an Honorable Mention All-Ivy selection that year — all the while suffering from the pain left behind by an ineffective, off-season shoulder surgery that kept him out of nearly all of the team’s practices.
“I am happy for Chris to be given the opportunity,” head coach James Jones said. “It just proves that kids have a great deal of respect for him as a student-athlete.”
Also on the ballot for captain were Archibong and T.J. McHugh ’03.
“Ime did an unbelievable job for us last year. He was a tremendous captain,” Jones said. “I think that [the players] felt they wanted to share the wealth. That is the way this team is. They wanted to give someone else an opportunity.”
With his shoulder getting stronger by the day and the team returning every player from this successful season, Leanza hopes that next season, everything might come together.
“Anything other than an Ivy championship would be a let down for us,” Leanza said.
For those Yale fans hoping to see Leanza and his teammates in action next year, their opportunities might be limited.
Long Island University has backed out of a game in New Haven, leaving the Yale schedule currently without a nonconference home game, Jones said. Yale had four this past year, but the team’s success has made it difficult to attract opponents.
Jones is turning over every stone in trying to get teams to come to New Haven, but has had no luck. As it does every year, the team will play seven Ivy League home games.
The road portion of the schedule, though, is coming together nicely. If the University approves the trip, Jones said the Bulldogs will be playing three games in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska. Illinois, New Mexico State, the University of California at Santa Barbara and Weber State are other teams participating in the tournament hosted by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Jones has also added a road game at Fairfield University to go along with trips to Stanford, Wake Forest, St. Mary’s (California) and Sacred Heart. Yale also plays in the Phoenix Classic in Hartford, facing Holy Cross in the first round and then either Central Connecticut State or Hartford.
In August, the Bulldogs will travel to Italy to play professional competition before school starts.