Few people have sacrificed more for Yale basketball than T.J. McHugh ’03. In his four year career with the Bulldogs, McHugh has had to overcome numerous injuries to get to where he is today.
“He’s an all-around good guy, and a tough guy too, sticking through for four years and competing at this high a level,” Ime Archibong ’03 said. “It’s kind of a running joke that T.J. is always injured. He’s had to battle through all that, and I really admire him for his toughness.”
During his freshman year, a persistent right knee injury kept McHugh on the bench for most of the season. To get back onto the court, McHugh went through two knee surgeries.
But McHugh’s health problems did not end there. Before the start of last season, McHugh had his appendix taken out and during the most recent off-season, he underwent yet another surgery, this time on his right elbow.
“What’s kept me going? It’s definitely my love for the game,” McHugh said. “If I didn’t have a passion for playing basketball, if I didn’t want to get out everyday and compete, I would have no way gone through all the injuries and the knee problems and the surgeries that I went through.”
Despite all the injuries, any of which could have crippled his career, McHugh has developed into one of the key cogs in the Yale offense. After playing only eight games in his first season because of his knee injury, McHugh played all 27 games in his sophomore season. Against Vermont, McHugh recorded his first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds).
Last season, McHugh found the spotlight. En route to helping Yale to a share of its first Ivy League Championship since 1963, McHugh earned himself a spot on the All-Ivy League Team as an honorable mention.
“Being named honorable mention All-Ivy was truly an honor,” McHugh said. “There are eight teams out there, and about 10 guys on each team playing. That’s 80 players, and to be picked among the top 13 or so is a very big honor.”
McHugh was seventh in the league last year in rebounding, with 5.4 per game, and ninth in free throw percentage, at 71.8 percent. In addition, McHugh’s 61.5 season field-goal percentage made him second-best in Yale history.
In addition to offense, McHugh also became key on defense. McHugh won the team’s George McReynolds Award, awarded annually to the top defender.
“I was really honored by getting the [McReynolds] award,” McHugh said. “I definitely didn’t expect it. Defense is something that [Yale] coach [James] Jones harps on and something the team as a whole works pretty hard on. Being made the defensive MVP was quite a shock and quite an honor.”
Even with elbow surgery before this season, McHugh picked up right where he left off last year. McHugh is currently second in the Ivy League in field goal percentage (.574) and 7th in free throw percentage (.743). He had a career-high 23 points at Columbia and has led the team in scoring six times. Against Manhattan at Madison Square Garden, McHugh made a basket with 6.7 seconds left to give Yale the overtime win.
“T.J. is a very smart player, and he’s very good at positioning himself on the court,” Chris Leanza ’03 said. “Offensively, he’s a focal point of our team. He draws a lot of attention and opens things up for everyone else. He has pretty good passing ability, and when he’s double-teamed, he can usually find the open man. He’s also more fundamentally sound than other big men in the league. He’s got great footwork, and he uses his head fakes really well.”
Despite what is shaping up to be another productive season, McHugh still did not escape injury. After injuring his left knee during the Dartmouth game Feb. 7, McHugh played significantly reduced minutes against Harvard and was hampered at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton the following week. Partially because of McHugh’s injury, Yale lost both games.
“We’re a different team when T.J. is healthy,” Jones said. “The reason our offense stalled against Penn and Princeton was because he was bothered by an injury and couldn’t establish his position inside.”
After the end of this season, McHugh hopes that his health will permit him to play professionally overseas.
“I’d love to keep playing. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t present itself to that many people, and if that’s something that comes my way, I’d really like to do it,” McHugh said. “But really it all comes down to whether or not I’m going to be healthy next year. My doctors back home keep telling me that I’m crazy to keep playing. But I’m just not ready to stop playing ball. It’s part of my personality, my persona. It’s who I am.”