Lukas Flippo

Guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 will captain the 2020–21 Yale men’s basketball team, he confirmed with the News Sunday afternoon.

The 2019–20 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Gabbidon helped the Bulldogs to a second-consecutive Ancient Eight title this past winter. He started all 30 games and collected a team-high 40 steals before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Ivy Madness, drove students off campus and brought an abrupt end to Yale’s postseason goals. 

The Elis typically select a team captain at their year-end banquet, casting votes anonymously with pen and paper, but with no way to gather this spring, Gabbidon said players voted Friday using Google Forms distributed by Yale Athletics. The team then held a meeting over Zoom following the vote.

Gabbidon started all 30 games and collected a team-high 40 steals last season. (Lukas Flippo)

“For me personally, being voted captain is really special,” Gabbidon said Sunday afternoon. “Missing significant parts of my first two years to injury really devastated me. I’m so thankful for my teammates for both believing in me not just as a player, but as a person as well. I’m appreciative of the level of trust they have in me as a leader and am extremely looking forward to reciprocating that same trust in them.” 

Before his junior season, the 6-foot-5 guard had only started one game for Yale, playing 20 minutes at home against Albany as a sophomore. He suffered a broken foot prior to his first year on campus, which sidelined him for the entire season, before missing the final seven games of his sophomore year as well.

But as a junior and finally in full health, Gabbidon flourished, emerging as the Bulldogs’ strongest perimeter defender with the ability to finish athletically at the rim and knock down open shots from deep. Forcing loose balls and picking up a career-high five steals, he led a furious 13-point comeback over the final 98 seconds against Penn in what the Ivy Hoops Online staff voted the conference’s best game of the season. 

A breakaway dunk from Gabbidon helped cap Yale’s 13-point comeback against Penn in February. (muscosportsphotos.com)

Data analyzed by former president of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group Luke Benz ’19 found Gabbidon reduced the offensive rating of his primary defense assignment by about 50 percent in some cases. Playing at home against Brown, Gabbidon helped lead a defensive effort that limited guard Brandon Anderson and forward Tamenang Choh, who then averaged a combined 33.2 points per game for the Bears, to five-for-22 shooting from the field.

“We’ve had a great changing of the guard with guys who just gonna put their time in and be our best defensive player on the perimeter, and Jalen has taken that role,” head coach James Jones said after the win to open conference play. “We had Nick Victor ’16, then we had Trey Phills ’19, and now we have Jalen Gabbidon. It’s great for a coach to know that going into a game, you’re going to have a guy who’s gonna sacrifice and give up himself to try to shut down somebody on the other end.”

On the first day of practice, Gabbidon said, Jones distributes a survey for players to fill out. When it came to individual goals, Gabbidon wrote that he only had one: the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honor. The morning after Ivy League presidents decided to cancel the Ancient Eight’s postseason tournament, the award was officially Gabbidon’s, shared by the Yale guard and Brown forward Jaylan Gainey. Jones won Coach of the Year that same morning, and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 split Ivy League Player of the Year honors with Penn forward AJ Brodeur, while guard Azar Swain ’21 and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 joined Atkinson on the All-Ivy First Team.

Gabbidon will succeed 2019–20 captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20. (muscosportsphotos.com)

When the NCAA proceeded to cancel March Madness, along with all other winter and spring championships, a day after the Ivy League announced its postseason awards, the mood was much more somber. With the realization that a team banquet would be unlikely, Jones and his staff helped facilitate a final team dinner before players began departing New Haven.

“It didn’t have the total formality of the banquet, you know all the awards and proceedings, but it was definitely nice to see all the teammates again,” Gabbidon said. “Because there might not have been an opportunity before we had to leave, to sit down, have one more meal. We got to hear our seniors talk for a little bit. I’m really glad the coaches did that.”

The program published awards electronically at the end of March, honoring eight on the roster, including four out of five in the Class of 2021. Gabbidon, who prepares to lead this cohort of soon-to-be seniors into next season, received the George McReynolds Awards as the top defensive player. 

Joined by Atkinson (who declared for the 2020 NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility), Swain, and forwards Jameel Alausa ’21 and Wyatt Yess ’21, Gabbidon and his classmates have a clear plan.

“Our goal does not change this year,” he said. “An Ivy League championship and a run during March Madness.”

Gabbidon will succeed 2019–20 captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu