William McCormack, Contributing Photographer

Paul Atkinson ’21 will be taking his talents to South Bend and joining the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as a graduate transfer next year.

The Yale men’s basketball forward and last season’s Ivy League Co-Player of the Year announced his decision on Twitter Sunday night. Atkinson, who is from West Palm Beach, Florida, chose Notre Dame from a final list that also included Miami, Iowa, NC State and Texas.

“My four years at Yale have been nothing short of amazing,” Atkinson wrote when he initially announced his intention to pursue a graduate transfer in October. “The coaching staff has taught me so much and helped me mature to the basketball player I am today. I especially want to thank Coach [James] Jones who has been nothing but supportive of me in all my decisions.”

While eight of the 12 returning players on the men’s basketball team elected to take a leave of absence in fall 2020, Atkinson opted to enroll in residence this past semester. In September, Atkinson told the News he planned to take classes in the spring as well. With no Bulldog basketball season this winter, he will be eligible to compete with the Fighting Irish at the start of the 2021-22 men’s basketball season after graduating from Yale this spring.

Atkinson will graduate from Yale as the school’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage. The 6-foot-10 big has shot 66.1 percent on 638 attempts from the field over his three seasons with the Bulldogs. David Tompkins ’99, who went 102 for 155 over the span of his career, holds the current record of 65.8 percent.

As a first year, Atkinson set a school record by shooting 69.2 percent from the field. The record would only stand for one season, as he shot 69.7 percent from the field in his sophomore year — both Ivy League-leading marks. 

Last season, Atkinson again led the Ancient Eight in field goal percentage and averaged 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game en route to a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection. He also received the Bulldogs’ Dutch Arnold Award for as the Bulldogs’ most valuable player. He joined Yale’s 1,000-point club in a game at Columbia last February.

“Our whole team is really happy for [Atkinson],” fellow men’s basketball forward Wyatt Yess ’21 told the News. “Paul is a great player, and we’re really excited to watch him do big things next year.”

Last March, Atkinson declared for the 2020 NBA Draft while maintaining his eligibility to return to Yale for his senior season. This allowed the then-junior to receive input from NBA teams, as well as the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, regarding whether he might be chosen in that year’s 60-player draft class. Atkinson ultimately decided to remove his name and preserve his final season of NCAA eligibility.

Atkinson’s future teammate and Notre Dame starting guard Cormac Ryan is the younger brother of one of Atkinson’s former teammates: forward Thomas Ryan ’19. The Ryans’ father, Michael Ryan ’89, played basketball at Yale, starting all 28 games his senior year.

The Fighting Irish will be receiving a durable, efficient scorer, as Atkinson played in every game during his Yale career, racking up a total of 1,090 points over three seasons. Atkinson set a single-season Bulldogs record by having a double-digit scoring outing in all 30 of the team’s games last season.

ESPN College Basketball Insider Jeff Borzello wrote he considers Atkinson a “huge pickup for the Fighting Irish.”

The Ivy League’s 2020-21 winter athletic seasons were canceled in November.

James Richardson | james.richardson@yale.edu

Update, Jan. 4, 12:30 a.m.: This article has been updated to include more context on Atkinson’s decision and Yale career.

JAMES RICHARDSON
James Richardson covers men's basketball, squash and athletic administration. Originally from South Florida, he is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College.