Yale fans breathed a sigh of relief last week when star guard Makai Mason opted to withdraw from the NBA draft and return to Yale for his junior year. Mason was a critical part of Yale’s 2015-16 Ivy League championship season, leading the Bulldogs in total points, steals, assists and minutes played.
The road to a repeat championship will be tough for Yale, even with Mason back. The Bulldogs will sorely miss reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears, and graduating seniors Brandon Sherrod and Nick Victor. Their matriculation means that Yale will begin its 2016-17 campaign with three new members to the starting lineup. Likely replacements include rising seniors Sam Downey and Anthony Dallier.
Downey is a 6’9 forward who was the recipient of the Bulldogs Most Improved Player award for the 2014-15 season. Downey’s total minutes played nearly doubled between his sophomore and junior seasons, and he was the most productive member off the bench for Yale during its league championship run. He appeared in every game for the Bulldogs last season, and averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds. Downey played especially well in Yale’s first-round match-up against Baylor in the NCAA tournament, recording eight points and seven rebounds.
Dallier took over as starting guard following Jack Montague’s expulsion from Yale, and was this year’s winner of the team's Most Improved Player award. Dallier excelled in his starting role, pouring in double-digit points in six out of 10 games, and finishing the season in the top three in assists for the Bulldogs. Dallier has also been named team captain for the upcoming season.
One of Yale’s most promising freshman prospects is Jordan Bruner. Bruner was ranked as the second-best prospect in South Carolina, and chose Yale over more traditional powerhouse schools like Clemson. Bruner is noted for his ball handling ability and overall athleticism, and for a Bulldog team that will be looking for ways to put points on the board, it’s likely that Bruner could be immediately effective.
The road to another Ivy League title for Yale may be tough with the loss of its senior core, but the return of Mason and the addition of promising freshman talent has to make the Bulldogs feel better about their chances.