When guard Makai Mason ’18 suffered a season-ending foot injury in November, news organizations across the country jumped on the story.
It was unusual for an Ivy League player to receive this much attention for an injury, but then again, the average Ivy League player does not receive heaping praise from Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski — arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time — get profiled by Sports Illustrated and drop 31 points in his team’s first victory in NCAA tournament history.
After Mason’s injury, questions emerged about how Yale would respond after losing the preseason favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year.
“You don’t replace a Makai Mason overnight,” head coach James Jones said. “It’s hard to do.”
During his sophomore season, Mason led the Eli roster with 16.0 points and 3.8 assists per game, finishing the season with a career-high performance in Yale’s upset of No. 5-seeded Baylor in the opening round of March Madness.
In a closed scrimmage against Boston University on Nov. 8, Mason dislocated his big toe, broke his sesamoid bone and tore his plantar plate in his right foot, according to the point guard. While Mason hopes to be cleared in a week and a half or so for on-court activity, he is not expecting to return this season.
Even though he can’t participate in practice or play in games, Mason has remained active with the team. Since his foot has healed enough for him to travel, he has gone with the team to away games and attends every practice he can.
“He’s just addicted to the game of basketball and he has to get his fix,” Jones said.
Hypothetically speaking, Mason has not taken his foot off the gas, taking stationary shots, lifting and watching film.
Landon Russell ’18, a teammate and close friend of Mason, said that he has been trying to tell his friend to not do too much and to give the healing process some time.
“We went to go see a movie and we got out at 11 or 12 [at night] and he went to go lift in the Silliman gym afterwards,” Russell said. “He doesn’t take a ton of days off.”
Russell also said that Mason will lift or shoot whenever if he feels like it, whether it is 9 p.m. or one in the morning.
But Mason has handled his injury well and will be ready for next year’s season, according to both Mason and Jones.
The Greenfield, Massachusetts native is quick to praise his teammates. With the only returning starter gone, most players saw considerably more time on the court. When asked who in particular has stepped up in his absence, he started with captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17 and went on to mention nearly every member of the team, rattling off what each player has contributed while he has been out. Freshmen, including guard Miye Oni ’20 — whom Mason praised as someone who can “take over games” — have also had their chance to make an impact.
While the Bulldogs came into this season in a precarious situation, they have, in many players’ minds, exceeded expectations. With another win, they will earn a spot in the inaugural Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament, held on March 11–12 in Philadelphia, the winner of which receives a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“[The success] is just a testament to the guys working on their games in the off-season and the coaches putting guys in the right position in games and in practice,” Mason said.
Forced to red-shirt this season, Mason will graduate in 2018 with one year of NCAA eligibility left. The guard said he will definitely be back at Yale for his senior season and is looking into the possibility of spending a fifth year at a top collegiate program where he can compete for a national championship.
Both his current and past coaches expect many teams to be interested, though no collegiate team is allowed to recruit him until he is no longer formally enrolled at Yale.
“If I were a coach of a nationally ranked hoop program, I’d drool over the chance to add Makai to my squad,” said Stephen McKibben, Mason’s former high school coach at the Hotchkiss School. “I cannot imagine a better role model, teammate or coach on the floor than Makai.”
While Mason will not declare for the NBA draft this year as he did last year, he is still hoping to someday play in the best basketball league in the world — something he has been dreaming about forever, according to Mason.
Last year, Yale posted its most victories since its 1906–07 season.