While the list of accomplishments for the Yale men’s basketball team will not be finalized until the Bulldogs finish their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1962, the team has already received five individual postseason honors.
On Wednesday, forward Justin Sears ’16 was named Ivy League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season while head coach James Jones also repeated, earning Coach of the Year honors. In addition to Sears, forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 and point guard Makai Mason ’18 were also named All-Ivy First Team members, while guard Nick Victor ’16 earned honorable mention recognition.
“I think [this is the best team I’ve ever coached],” Jones said on Tuesday. “We have more better players than I have ever had before and I consider this team second to none.”
Sears, Sherrod, Mason and Victor are all starters on a Bulldog squad that nearly completed a perfect Ivy League season. The Elis finished 13–1 in the 14-game tournament and secured Yale’s first outright league championship since 1962. Furthermore, the team went a perfect 13–0 at home, a feat never before accomplished at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, which opened in 1932.
After being named Player of the Year last season, Sears entered 2015–16 with grand expectations, which the senior met and surpassed. After averaging 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game last year, he upped those numbers to 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season.
Sears, who was the first Bulldog to win Player of the Year since 1988, is now the only player in Yale history to win the award twice.
In addition, Sears was one of only two players, joining Columbia’s Maodo Lo, to be unanimously named to the First Team. Sears has now earned First Team honors for the third consecutive season, and is the first Eli since longtime NBA player Chris Dudley ’87 to earn the distinction three times.
“[Sears has] just been awesome, obviously on the court, but his presence off the court has been just as important,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “He’s been a great leader keeping us focused and determined. He’s one of, if not the best players to come through [Yale] and his legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Sears’ season was highlighted by a 31-point performance against Penn on Feb. 20, and the Plainfield, New Jersey native scored in double figures in 21 of 26 games while registering five double-doubles. He finished the season as the sixth-leading scorer and fifth-leading rebounder in the conference.
Sears and Sherrod have controlled the paint throughout the season, especially during Ancient Eight play. Sherrod was tied with Mason as the team’s leading scorer during the conference schedule with 15.8 points per game, while Sears averaged 15.3 points on 51.7 percent shooting.
“Brandon was unbelievable. He made my life so much easier this year,” Sears said. “He had so many rebounds that I didn’t have to work as hard. I’m a finesse player, he’s a power player, so we compliment each other very well. He also lives above me in the same apartment, he’s a joy to be around.”
After taking a year off to travel with the world-renowned Whiffenpoofs, Sherrod returned better than ever in his senior campaign. After averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a junior, he started all 28 games this year for the Bulldogs and posted 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
In the process, Sherrod set an NCAA record by making 30 consecutive field goals. The 6-foot-6 forward wound up finishing second in the league in conference play with a 64.4 percent shooting clip from the floor.
Just as expectations for Sherrod were tempered after his year away from the team, questions surrounded Mason as he assumed the starting point guard role left open by the graduation of three-year starter Javier Duren ’15. After averaging less than seven points and 20 minutes per game as a freshman, Mason seemed unlikely to ascend to a First Team level.
“[Mason] has a great sense of toughness and demeanor about the way he plays,” Jones said. “He has great confidence, and he just does an excellent job knowing when to be a guy who is going to distribute and when to be guy who is going to score on his own.”
Mason played at a consistently high level throughout the season, ranking fifth in the conference in scoring at 15.8 points per game and tied for third with 3.7 assists per contest. However, it was his heroics in clutch moments such as his game-tying jumper against Dartmouth with 5.4 seconds left and his game-high 22 points against Columbia to clinch a trip to the NCAA Tournament that perhaps stood out most.
After a season in which the Bulldog trio earned nine Ivy League Player of the Week awards during the 18-week campaign, the group became the first set of three Elis to earn First Team honors in the same season.
Victor rounded out the series of postseason awards. The versatile guard returned from an injury-plagued junior season to earn Honorable Mention recognition after helping the Elis on both ends of the court.
“[Victor is] Mr. Intangible,” Sears said. “We missed him the most last year. A lot of people didn’t realize that, if we had him, we definitely would’ve made it to the tournament last year.”
Victor averaged 7.3 rebounds per game from the guard position, helping the Elis who ranked second nationally in rebounding margin per game, while also finishing second in the league in three-point shooting at 47.0 percent.
After averaging seven points per game, perhaps Victor’s most important contributions came on defense, where he averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals per game while often manning up against the opposing team’s best guard.
“Nick Victor has been absolutely amazing,” Jones said on Monday. “He has been the glue that’s held a lot of what we do together. He does more dirty work than anybody else. He gets tough rebounds, guards the best player on the other team and he blocks shots, so he does a little bit of everything for us. He has also been a great distributor of the ball to make his teammates better.”
Victor and Sears, who averaged a team-high 1.8 blocks per game, were beat out for Defensive Player of the Year by Harvard’s Agunwa Okolie.
Dartmouth’s Evan Boudreaux, who averaged 20.2 points per game in conference play, was selected as the league’s Rookie of the Year while Lo and Princeton forward Henry Caruso rounded out the First Team.