Following a historic season in which the Yale men’s basketball team went 22–10 en route to its first Ivy League title in over a decade, the Bulldogs spent 10 days in Australia practicing and playing four games against international competitors.
During the trip abroad, which began on Aug. 11, the Elis finished with a record of 3–1 against a combination of professional teams and junior all-stars.
“The trip was a fantastic opportunity to get more court time for all of our guys, but perhaps more importantly, it was another great chance for us to spend time together as a team,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “We’ve always been a very close-knit group but our experiences in Australia will only strengthen our camaraderie and the benefits of that will show on the court come November.”
The Bulldogs began their journey in Melbourne and faced the Ringwood Hawks, who were coming off a regular season championship of their own, on Aug. 12. Only a day after the Elis spent nearly 20 hours on a plane, Yale dropped its first game 85–75, shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from behind the arc. The Bulldogs also had to adjust to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules, which feature 10-minute quarters and a 24-second shot clock as opposed to 20-minute halves and a 30-second shot clock under NCAA regulations.
“One thing that we saw in Australia that excites us for the upcoming season is their use of the 24-second shot clock,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “It forced us to play faster and looser than in previous years, and I believe we’ll be seeing even more of that during the season when we have to adjust to the new 30-second shot clock.”
With a day to rest and regroup, the team bounced back in its second game against the Victorian Junior All Star team, using a strong third quarter to power an 86–70 victory on Aug. 13. Forward Justin Sears ’16, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, led the team with 26 points.
The Bulldogs were impressive again in their next game on Aug. 16 against Diamond Valley, defeating the Australian professional team 86–68 as Sears dominated with 30 points and 15 boards.
“The people were amazing and very accommodating,” Sears said. “What made the trip even better was Australian people loved basketball, and were not shy to show their appreciation for having an American team over.”
The Elis out-rebounded their opponents 57–30, continuing to excel on the glass, which defined Yale’s play last season as it has throughout the tenure of head coach James Jones. Yale’s +5.7 rebounding margin was good enough for 24th in the nation — four spots ahead of national champion, and 2015–16 opponent, Duke — and tops in the Ivy League.
Yale’s final showdown occurred in Sydney, where the Bulldogs closed out the trip with a 95–69 win against Manly Warringah on Aug. 18. The Elis controlled the contest from the outset and led 23–8 after the first quarter. Four Yale players scored in double figures: Sears, captain Jack Montague ’16, Downey and guard Landon Russell ’18.
Throughout the trip, Jones started different players for every game, providing an opportunity for each player to see ample court time.
“[These four games] were meant for everyone to play extensively and for us to basically get four extra games under our belt before the preseason even starts,” Montague said. “[W]e looked better each game we played and it was very encouraging for this group of guys leading in to a big year for us.”
Two players who were hampered last season due to injury, guard Nick Victor ’16 and forward Sem Kroon ’19, were singled out by Montague as having especially productive experiences.
Victor started 30 games in his sophomore campaign, finishing 10th in the conference in steals per game, before a PCL injury limited him to just six games in 2014–15. But the Dallas native played in all four contests in Australia, and Montague said that he looked “physical, athletic and explosive.”
Kroon, meanwhile, was reclassified as a member of the class of 2019 following an unspecified injury that prevented him from playing in any games last year. He posted 10 points and pulled down four rebounds in the team’s Australian opener.
“I thought it was [a] great experience for Kroon,” Montague said. “He was hurt last year as a freshman, so he had to medically redshirt. For him to get some competition in before this next season was huge for his development.”
Though the Bulldogs played four games in Australia, the trip also gave players an opportunity to experience the culture Down Under and sightsee.
In Melbourne, the Elis helped run a clinic with Helping Hoops before their first game, playing games with disadvantaged or disabled kids. The Bulldogs also visited the Eureka Skydeck, the tallest building in the city, and attended an Australian Football game.
In Sydney, the team climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and enjoyed both Bondi Beach and Gap Park.
The trip was supported by an endowment created by alumnus John J. Lee ’58, whose name continues to grace the Bulldogs’ home court.
The Bulldogs now return to campus for preseason training before the season opens on Nov. 13 against Fairfield as part of the Connecticut Six Classic. The Ivy League season begins Jan. 16 at home against Brown, as the Elis look to defend their Ancient Eight crown.