After the Yale men’s basketball team made history with a program-best two-game run in the NCAA Tournament, several members of the team are aiming to make their own history this offseason.
Two of Yale’s five starters, forwards Justin Sears ’16 and Brandon Sherrod ’16, will pursue careers in professional basketball next year. Both Sears and point guard Makai Mason ’18, who produced a sensational sophomore campaign this season, confirmed to the News that they will declare for the 2016 NBA draft.
For Sears and Sherrod, fall destinations are up in the air, while Mason will likely return to New Haven, taking advantage of a January NCAA rule change that allows players to test out the draft market and still return to school without jeopardizing any eligibility.
“I’m not surprised [that three starters are looking at professional careers] because I see what my teammates are capable of on a daily basis,” Mason said. “Our success during the season certainly helped draw attention to the abilities of players on our team.”
According to head coach James Jones, Sears and Sherrod are currently searching for agents. Jones added that Sears is expected to choose an agent by the end of the week.
Sears recently showcased his talents at the 2016 Reese’s College All-Star Game, held in Houston at the site of the recently completed Final Four. After jumping for the opening tip for the East squad, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year scored four points on 2–4 shooting from the field and grabbed five rebounds in 18 minutes of action.
Sears, an All-American honorable mention selection for the second consecutive year, was also named a Senior Class First-Team All-American while in Houston. The honor rewards star players who are committed to leadership and have made positive impacts in their communities.
Other players on the First Team include Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine; the first is the 2016 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and the latter three are projected to be first-round picks in the NBA draft.
“It’s an outstanding award for [Sears],” Jones said. “To be considered amongst the best five seniors in the country is an amazing tribute to all of his hard work and his teammates over his four years. If we don’t get to the NCAA Tournament, no one really knows about him as much so it’s a great honor for him. It speaks volumes for the team and the program.”
Sears will play in the 2016 Gotham Hoops Invitational this weekend, an event designed for players pursuing careers overseas, before displaying his skills again at the Portsmouth Invitational later in the month, a tournament which attracts hundreds of scouts from NBA and European teams.
Mason, who captured the nation’s attention with a 31-point performance in Yale’s first-round upset over Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, is taking advantage of the NCAA rule change that moved the date by which men’s basketball players must remove their names from the NBA draft if they decide not to go pro. Rather than needing to withdraw in early April, players now have up to 10 days after the conclusion of the NBA Draft Combine, which this year is May 15.
This rule, paired with a change that allows students to enter the NBA draft multiple times without jeopardizing eligibility and participate in the combine as well as in one tryout per NBA team per year, allows Mason to essentially become a temporary professional prospect, try out with teams and return to school for his junior season.
While it has become commonplace among some of the premiere college basketball programs for players to leave school early for the NBA, the move would be unprecedented in Yale basketball history. In fact, only one player since 1949 has been drafted out of the Ivy League after leaving school early: Princeton’s Brian Taylor was drafted in the second round of the 1972 draft by the Seattle SuperSonics after leaving school following his junior season.
Mason told the News that he expects to return next year, and hopes to work out with teams to give them an additional chance to see him play.
“Makai is testing the waters to find out if he is good enough to play now or if he is not, what does he have to do to become good enough to play,” Jones said. “He wants to figure out what is best for him personally, and I think it’s great.”
Mason led the Bulldogs with 16.0 points per game this season, edging out Sears’ mark of 15.7.
Sherrod was the subject of two of the most interesting storylines of the season. He entered his senior campaign a season removed from basketball, as he took a year off to travel the world with the renowned a capella group, the Whiffenpoofs.
“Before the season started, I don’t know what Brandon was thinking in terms of what he wanted to do for the rest of his life or the next year or so, but I think that after the experience he had with our basketball program, he feels like he would like to pursue basketball,” Jones said. “He will try to play here or overseas sometime this year.”
After singing in 26 different countries, the senior came back and seamlessly slipped into the starting lineup.
A proficient rebounder and defender in the paint, Sherrod also demonstrated a marked improvement offensively. Beginning in the second half of Yale’s opening Ivy League contest against Brown on Jan. 16, the forward made 30 consecutive field goals — a new NCAA record.
Thanks in part to his streak, Sherrod finished with a 56.8 shooting percentage from the field, the best among all Yale starters. He also averaged 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game this season.
The players are not the only members of the Yale men’s basketball program to receive significant attention, as Jones has earned numerous honors following his 17th year at the helm of the Bulldogs’ program, and his first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
In the past few weeks alone, Jones earned the CollegeInsider.com Hugh Durham Award, presented annually to the nation’s top mid-major coach; the United States Basketball Writers Association District 1 Coach of the Year; and the Advocates For Athletic Equity Division I Coach of the Year Award. He has also won the Ivy League and National Association of Basketball Coaches District 13 Coach of the Year awards for the past two years.
The preparations of Sears, Mason and Sherrod come a year after former point guard Javier Duren ’15 made the move to professional basketball. Duren, a first-team All-Ivy honoree in 2015, has spent this season with Aris Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, where he leads the league in scoring.
In total, the Elis have had three players — Chris Dudley ’87, Butch Graves ’84 and Tony Lavelli ’49 — play in the NBA.