Forward Sam Downey ’17 stepped on the court in last March’s Ivy League Tournament semifinal against Harvard knowing the game could be the last of his basketball career. Over the next 40 minutes, the then-senior willed the Yale men’s basketball team to victory with the game’s only double-double, extending his career by one game. But the recent Yale graduate will not worry about hanging up his shoes anytime soon.
Downey has signed to play professional basketball in Switzerland this season. The Lake Forest, Illinois native will compete for BC Winterthur in the Swiss LNA league and will be one of six former Bulldogs playing professionally.
“I’m very excited to start my first pro season,” Downey said. “I never really imagined myself becoming a pro basketball player, so being able to do so is surreal.”
Downey is currently at BC Winterthur’s training camp and will be one of three Americans on the roster. The team competes in the top division of Swiss basketball, and its season starts later this month. Winterthur is in northeastern Switzerland and is the second largest city in the canton of Zurich.
Downey said that the high level of play in the league and the chance to live in Switzerland made him interested in joining BC Winterthur.
“I was drawn to the Swiss League because the competition is very good for a rookie,” Downey said. “BC Winterthur made a commitment to improvement and winning that I really wanted to be a part of.”
Yale head coach James Jones said he does not anticipate that Downey will struggle to adjust to the style of play in Europe, where big men take more shots from distance and stretch the floor more.
“Although he didn’t shoot a lot from the perimeter last year, it’s certainly something he is capable of doing,” Jones said.
Downey bloomed on the hardwood late in his time at Yale. He started just three games in his first three seasons in New Haven, sitting on the bench behind first-team All-Ivy forwards Justin Sears ’16 and Brandon Sherrod ’16.
But Downey emerged his senior year after the dynamic duo graduated. The once-role player transformed into Mr. Consistency for Yale, starting every game and averaging 11.8 points per contest. Jones said that throughout the 2017–18 campaign that he could pencil Downey in for 10 points and eight rebounds on almost every night. Downey received honorable mention All-Ivy recognition at the end of the year, a decision widely regarded as a snub for the most reliable player on a Yale team that reached the inaugural Ivy League Championship Game.
The intangibles Downey brings to a team have long earned him the praise of his coaches and teammates. Jones said that as a willing passer, Downey is “one of the best teammates you could have.” Sherrod echoed his former coach’s praise, noting that Downey’s work ethic often goes unnoticed.
“People have no clue how many hours this guy spends in the gym and the library,” Sherrod said. “He has great touch around the basket and an array of moves to get his shots off. As a teammate, he’s always there to encourage guys and he leads by example.”
Downey joins Sherrod and four former Bulldogs in the professional ranks. Sears, center Greg Mangano ’12 and guards Javier Duren ’15 and Armani Cotton ’15 also compete professionally. Sears, who was the Ivy League Player of the Year in both 2014–15 and 2015–16, plays in Germany for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and scored 10 points in a preseason game Wednesday.
Sherrod is entering his second year playing in Italy’s second division, this time for Givova Scafati Basket. The former member of the Whiffenpoofs is staying as active off the court as he did at Yale. Sherrod recently recorded a full CD, which sold 1,000 copies and made 10,000 euros. The proceeds went to purchase a new PA system at his alma mater Stratford High School in Connecticut and instruments for an Italian school affected by last October’s earthquake. The former Bulldog said he has more music ventures planned.
Downey is the 23rd Bulldog in Jones’ 18-year tenure to have played professionally.
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