Decades removed from the days of basketball legend John J. Lee’s ’58 decision to step away from a contract opportunity with the New York Knicks partly due to modest wages, professional sports have ballooned into one of the most lucrative industries in the world.
The expansion of the athletics market, beyond the multimillion dollar contracts of leagues such as the NBA and NFL, has enabled more and more student-athletes with professional aspirations to pursue a living through their athletic prowess. With the Yale basketball team just 50 days away from defending its share of the Ivy League championship, three former Bulldogs are training overseas far from the familiar court at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Point guard Javier Duren ’15, center Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14 and forward Greg Mangano ’12 will be suiting up for clubs in Holland, Israel and Belgium, respectively, continuing a lineage of players to extend their careers after suiting up as Bulldogs for head coach James Jones.
“You love to see guys follow their dreams and get to places where they can excel,” said Jones, the 2015 Ivy League Coach of the Year. “Playing basketball is a wonderful thing and if you can keep the air in the ball and keep it bouncing for another year after graduation, why not?”
The most recent to make a splash in New Haven, Duren, a First-Team All-Ivy honoree in 2015, is less than two weeks away from his debut for Aris Leeuwarden, a Dutch squad in the Eredivisie League.
Duren’s dreams of joining the professional ranks began in middle school and when the time came, there was no shortage of opportunities to help realize his goal.
“I was blessed enough to have about 15 agencies wanting to represent me after my college season ended, so that definitely made the process easier,” said Duren.
Signed to a one-year contract with hopes of progressing to a higher-caliber league, Duren was originally planning on rooming with a very familiar face: recently graduated Steve Moundou-Missi of Harvard. Moundou-Missi, a native of Cameroon who knocked down the game-winning shot that sealed Yale’s fate back in March, has since been replaced on the team’s roster due to complications in receiving permission to work in Holland.
Never known to be bitter, Duren did look forward to teaming up with his former counterpart, though not without some teasing first.
“I joked many times that I wasn’t going to pass him the ball for the first month,” Duren said.
Kreisberg’s path to the pros proved to be less straightforward, as a severe back injury during his junior year at Yale produced a major detour. Surgery forced Kreisberg to watch from the bench his senior season but granted the Environmental Studies degree-holder a chance to utilize his fourth year of eligibility at Northwestern as a graduate student.
Having already dealt with the shift from the Ivy League to the highly regarded Big 10 conference, Kreisberg will make yet another adjustment though he should encounter less of a cultural shock than his fellow Elis.
A dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, Kreisberg returns to Israel after signing with Maccabi Bazan Haifi of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A force in the frontcourt, Kreisberg’s most impressive stats actually stem from his days with Israel’s U-20 national team at the 2011 European Championships. He poured in 12.3 points per game to accompany 5.7 rebounds per game in the international competition.
Completing the trio is Mangano, who is also no stranger to international competition. Mangano is about to call Belgium his sixth basketball home since graduating in 2012, as his career has already included stints in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Romania and Finland. Mangano is now signed with Kangoeroes Basket Willebroek of Belgium’s Scooore League.
The Orange, Conecticut native is one of only eight Bulldogs to ever earn two First-Team All-Ivy selections. The all-time school leader in blocked shots, Mangano excelled at both ends of the court last season with Karhu Kauhajoki of Finland, averaging a double-double with 16.8 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Having stuffed the stat sheet wherever he has gone, Mangano noted that the transition off the court can prove to be more difficult for newcomers to the professional level.
“There was actually a period in my second season where I seriously considered retiring,” Mangano said. “At the time it was probably more of a knee jerk reaction to the fact that I still wasn’t used to leaving home for extended periods of time.”
Mangano credited Yale’s diverse student body for making the transition as smooth as possible, as he highlighted the challenges of moving to a new country with no connections or knowledge of the language. Nevertheless, Mangano has persisted and still thanks Jones for taking his career to the next level.
With Jones’s help, Mangano earned an invitation to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, an invite-only four-day tournament in front of talent evaluators from all 30 NBA teams for 64 of the best college seniors in the nation. Mangano also felt indebted to Jones for helping him attain the “most proud moment” of his career: being a member of the U.S. national team at the 2011 World University Games.
Stories such as Mangano’s continue to make Jones proud that he has helped to establish a culture that enables such success after graduation. Jones noted in particular that the team’s tradition of making a preseason international trip once every four years — the Bulldogs recently returned from Australia — plays a significant role.
“What’s great about playing overseas is you have that experience of a foreign country and a different way of life, and our guys are really equipped to do so … they have the desire to seek out new ground and see how other people live,” Jones said. “I was at Ohio University, and we had a guy who signed a nice contract to play professionally in Japan, but he couldn’t deal with the culture change because he hadn’t seen enough in his life.”
In addition to the imminent professional debuts of Kreisberg and Duren, they may soon be joined by another teammate. Jones said that guard/forward Armani Cotton ’15 is waiting to hear from the Boston Celtics for a potential workout as he also plans out his professional career.