During last season’s one-game Ivy League playoff against Harvard, guard Nick Victor ’16 watched from the sidelines as Harvard senior Wesley Saunders poured in a game-high 22 points to lead the Crimson to a devastating 53–51 victory and a fourth consecutive March Madness appearance.
Out for all but six games last season with an injured left knee, Victor missed the opportunity to match up against Saunders in perhaps the most important Yale basketball game in recent memory.
Victor tore his posterior cruciate ligament in the first scrimmage of the 2014–15 season and said he came back too early and reaggravated the knee. After starting 30 games his sophomore season and playing 795 minutes, Victor played just 42 minutes his junior season.
“I probably should’ve just taken the year off, looking back at it,” Victor said.
Now fully healed, Victor has been a powerhouse for the Bulldogs in the backcourt, providing a much-needed spark for a veteran team that has just begun its pursuit of an outright Ivy championship. The versatile 6-foot-5 guard is routinely assigned the task of playing defense against the opposing team’s best player.
“We asked him to do it as a sophomore so that has really helped,” head coach James Jones said of Victor’s defense. “He is kind of stuck in that mindset. He is a big, strong, athletic kid. I think that with his strength, quickness and athleticism, and his ability to anticipate, all are qualities to be a great defender.”
Victor and forward Justin Sears ’16 have formed a dynamic shot-blocking duo. Sears recently surpassed 16-year NBA veteran Chris Dudley ’87 to move into second place in Yale basketball history for career blocked shots with 175.
Meanwhile, in just over two seasons, Victor finds himself on the cusp of joining Dudley and Sears on Yale’s top-10 list, as his 56 career rejections are just nine behind Travis McCready ’91.
“[Victor] adds toughness and grittiness to the team when he is on the floor,” Sears said. “I am one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball, and so is Nick. He guards the other teams’ best perimeter players, and I guard the other teams’ best big men. He is a really good shot blocker.”
And while Victor is listed as a guard in the media guide and often makes his living on the perimeter, he still ranks second on the team and eighth in the league with 6.9 rebounds per game, more than double his career average entering the season.
But it is on the offensive end of the court that Victor has perhaps made his biggest strides. The Dallas native averaged just 3.7 points per game over his first three seasons, and in his sophomore year, he shot just 28.1 percent from the three-point line and 28.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Victor is now averaging 7.6 points per game, while shooting 51.6 percent from beyond the arc — second-best in the Ivy League — and 66.7 percent from the charity stripe.
“I’ve always been a good driver because I’m fairly athletic, so it comes kind of easy to me, so being able to stretch the defender out and bring him out to the three-point line was very important to me,” Victor said. “It would help me with my driving game so I worked on my three-point game a lot, and it’s really showing this year.”
In Yale’s opening Ivy League victory over Brown, Victor posted a double-double, collecting 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also came away with four rejections, one more than Brown captain Cedric Kuakumensah, the all-time Ivy leader in blocked shots.
The performance against Brown represents the player that Victor prides himself on being, which, according to the guard, includes “bringing energy, a little spark.”
“He is unselfish. He is willing to do anything to help the team win,” Sears said. “He brings so many intangibles, whether it be diving on the floor for a loose ball, making an extra pass or communicating.”
Victor’s greatest asset might be his athleticism, a natural talent that can be attributed to an impressive family lineage.
One of Victor’s grandfathers played football at the University of Michigan, where he won two national championships, and his great-uncle also suited up for the Wolverines and was named team MVP in 1951. Victor never played football himself — a fact he called “crazy” due to his Texas upbringing — but his father and four brothers all played basketball.
Victor himself started playing the game at age six, and his long playing career has brought him to New Haven with a chance to help snap a 54-year NCAA Tournament drought.
“I always had that dream to play professionally, probably since elementary school,” Victor said. “Coming to Yale has been a dream come true because of its combination of academics and sports.”