After winning the Ivy League championship for the past two years and making a historic run in last season’s NCAA Tournament that included the program’s first ever victory at the Big Dance, the Yale men’s basketball team received plenty of national attention. In the process, several Bulldog players caught the eye of professional basketball teams in Europe.
Joining forward Greg Mangano ’12 and point guard Javier Duren ’15 overseas will be a host of recently graduated Elis, including forward Justin Sears ’16 and guard Nick Victor ’16 from last year’s historic squad, while forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 hopes to join his former teammates on the professional circuit later this year.
Sears, the most decorated individual from last year’s class, signed a contract in June with the Giessen 46ers of Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga (BBL). A three-time All-Ivy League selection and two-time Ivy League Player of the Year award recipient, the Plainfield, New Jersey native will travel nearly 4,000 miles to kick off his professional career.
“Giessen seemed like a great spot to start my professional career,” Sears said following his signing. “As a rookie, I’ll be playing in a high-profile league and given the opportunity to further develop as a player. The coach [Denis Wucherer] showed heavy interest in me and can help my game develop. The BBL is considered the second-best league in Europe so it will afford me the maximum exposure and the chance to play against the best competition in Europe.”
Sears certainly left his mark on the Yale basketball program. He ranks near the top of several statistical categories in Bulldog history, including third in points, fourth in rebounds and second in blocks.
Coming off a senior year in which he averaged 15.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game, Sears had a busy summer that included working out for the Boston Celtics in May prior to the announcement that he would play in Germany.
Victor, Sears’ classmate, will also continue his basketball career in Europe, as the Dallas, native agreed to terms earlier this month with Gimle BBK Bergen of Norway’s BLNO League. After an injury-riddled junior year, Victor returned to play a crucial role on last year’s team and was selected to the honorable mention All-Ivy League team.
According to the BLNO rule book, teams in the league are only allowed to have a maximum of two American players on the court at any time. Also, there must always be a minimum of two Norwegian players per team in the game.
As for Sherrod, the first-team All-Ivy forward has also dedicated his summer to training and plans to pursue a professional career as well.
“A lot of my training has just been working on different parts of my game that were not showcased last year,” Sherrod said. “I have worked on my three-point shooting and ball handling. I worked out pretty much every day [this summer] with Yale assistant coach Anthony Goins.”
Sherrod also trained earlier this summer with Duren. Sherrod is currently looking to re-sign with another agency after recently cutting ties with his previous one, and once that is complete, he will begin taking contract offers.
The success of the class of the 2016 should not come as a surprise, as the Bulldogs won 78 games over the past four seasons — the most in any four-year stretch since 1908.
“It’s great to see those guys overseas,” said Duren, who starred in the Netherlands last season. “I think it’s a testament to the Yale coaching staff and how they do an incredible job of developing players.”
In addition to that trio, guard Jack Montague, who captained last year’s team before being expelled in February, is also actively pursuing opportunities abroad. Should Sherrod and Montague each sign, then four of Yale’s starting five from the 2015–16 season opener would be playing professionally a year later.
As for the class of 2015, Duren will no longer be the lone professional representing his class, as guard Armani Cotton ’15 will be returning to the court this winter after not playing professionally last season. Cotton recently signed on with the Leuven Bears of Belgium’s Scooore League.
Both Duren and Cotton were instrumental to Yale’s 2015 Ivy League title, which it shared with Harvard. When the pair were seniors, Duren averaged 14.0 points and 3.9 assists per game, while Cotton averaged 6.5 points and 5.7 rebounds. Duren was selected as first-team All-Ivy League in 2015.
After leading the Netherlands’ Eredivisie League in scoring with 17.7 points per game to go along with 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.4 steals with Aris Leeuwarden, Duren will move on this season to Hungary, as he signed a deal with Kaposvari of Hungary’s A League earlier this month.
“This year feels great so far,” Duren said. “I’m much more confident and I can see I’m already picking up our offensive and defensive schemes pretty quickly because they were similar to last year. Overall, I’m just excited to have another good year.”
Duren is the second-most experienced active alum, behind Mangano.
Mangano, who began his career in Turkey four years ago, most recently played last season with the Kangoeroes Basket Willebroek in Belgium, but the 6-foot-10 forward is now a free agent. According to the Yale basketball website, Mangano is currently looking to sign with another team for the upcoming year.
In addition to the Bulldogs playing professionally, current point guard Makai Mason ’18 also gained some overseas experience this summer.
Mason, who starred in Yale’s first round win over Baylor during March Madness, was awarded a spot on the German national team that is currently competing in FIBA EuroBasket 2017. Mason joined fellow Ivy League-product Maodo Lo, who graduated from Columbia last year, on the team.