Going in to the 2009-’10 season, the “biggest” question facing Coach James Jones and the men’s basketball team was the squad’s big men: The graduation this past spring of the second-team All-Ivy duo of former captain Ross Morin ’09 and Travis Pinick ’09 left the Bulldogs needing to fill the frontcourt void with a combination of seven returning paint players, only two of whom had averaged more than 10 minutes per game in 2008-’09.

Now, going in to the final six games of the 2009-’10 season, that “big” question has an equally big answer: 6 feet 10 inches, 240-lb, center Greg Mangano ’12. The Orange, Conn., native and graduate of Notre Dame Academy of West Haven is currently the Bulldogs’ third-leading scorer at 8.2 points per game. His 6.6 rebounds per game in conference play lead the team and are good for fifth league-wide. His average of 2.0 blocks per game leads the Ancient Eight.

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Yet when the season tipped off in November, Mangano did not seem to be the dominant Bulldog in the paint. After missing the first six games of the season due to a foot injury, the Berkeley College sophomore was virtually a non-factor in his debut, scoring just four points in nine minutes in a Nov. 28 loss to Army.

“After missing the first eight or nine weeks of the season [including preseason] with an injury, I knew it would take a little while to get my timing and rhythm back,” Mangano said. “After a few weeks of progressing slowly and adjusting to the games again, it was around Christmas break that I was the closest to 100 percent I’ve been in a while, and since then I’ve felt great.”

Fortuitously, it was during that winter break that Mangano started to emerge as a major force in the Bulldog frontcourt. Looking to shake things up in the middle of a long losing streak, Jones inserted Mangano into the starting lineup Jan. 5 against Lehigh. And the big man responded: He tallied his first career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds in 25 minutes in Yale’s 75–69 loss. Mangano followed that up with a 12-rebound performance against Albertus Magnus on Jan. 7 — and he never looked back.

“Greg has been a lot more physical this season.” Jones said. “He’s grown up as a player, and that’s allowed him to assume a bigger role for us.”

Though he has started seven games this season, Mangano seems to have found his niche as Jones’ first big man off the bench – a perfect complement in the post to the core of upperclassmen leading the Elis this season: forward Mike Sands ’11, forward Jordan Gibson ’10 and captain and, in the backcourt, leading scorer Alex Zampier ’10.

“The upperclassmen in general have played an important role with their leadership skills and ability to help underclassmen improve,” Mangano said. “Everybody on the team plays an important role, and I just feel lucky to be here and help my team win.”

It was not always clear Mangano would end up at Yale. Though he was always the tallest member of his class in school, Mangano did not start playing basketball competitively until seventh grade — and even then, his height alone wasn’t enough.

“I always liked the game, and my dad encouraged me to start playing competitively because of my size,” Mangano said. “It took a while to develop as a basketball player, and I’m still developing.”

West Haven’s Notre Dame Academy was Mangano’s next stop, and it was there that he began to develop his game and his dreams of playing at the next level took off.

“I decided I wanted to play basketball in college in my sophomore year [of high school], when I stopped playing other sports in order to focus on basketball,” Mangano explained. “I played a lot of [Amateur Athletic Union] basketball and traveled all over the country.”

That decision paid off. Mangano earned all-state honors twice in his career at Notre Dame and was nominated for the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game following a stellar senior season in which he averaged 26 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks per game en route to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

His prep success extended to the AAU game, as his team, the Connecticut Basketball Club, took first in the Division I Showcase in Florida.

After such quick development, it was no surprise Yale came knocking — and even less of a surprise that Mangano answered the call.

“[In high school] I didn’t really think about playing for Yale, but once I got the opportunity it was impossible to turn down,” Mangano said. “Being from the area, I was obviously familiar with the University, so the choice was easy when the opportunity presented itself.”

Yet despite the opportunity, Mangano knew he had hard work ahead of him. As a freshman, he played in just 20 games off the bench, averaging only 6.5 minutes and 2.1 points per contest — a far cry from the impressive numbers he has posted consistently so far this season.

“The transition from high school to college-level sports is very difficult,” Mangano admitted. “You have to make adjustments to your game in order to succeed.”

Jones agreed that sometimes that transition simply takes time.

“It’s very hard to come in as a freshman and play,” Jones said. “He spent a lot of time learning behind guys like Ross Morin, and that was good for him. Sometimes you just have to wait out your time.”

With just six games remaining this season, the fourth-place Elis will need strong performances not only from Mangano, but also from the team’s upperclassmen in the coming weeks. Four straight road contests loom, including rematches with rivals Princeton and Harvard, who sit above the Bulldogs in the standings. The Elis then return home for the final weekend of the season — a weekend that features a season finale against first-place Cornell on March 6.

“There’s still six games left on the schedule, and we feel that we can be successful in every one,” Mangano said. “I’m also very confident in my teammates for the next couple years, and I think we’ll continue to have success with the guys we have returning.”

If Mangano’s development to this point is any indication, the only big question Jones will be asking before next season is just how “big” Mangano’s potential really is.

“He has a high ceiling,” Jones said. “If he continues to learn and work hard everyday in practice, he will definitely be a big player for us in the next few years.”