Jaywalking: Makai Mason: Comeback Kid

  • Yale guard Makai Mason, left, scrambles for a loose ball against Harvard, the preseason Ivy League favorite. ap file photo

  • Yale guard Makai Mason (11) from Greenfield drives to the hoop against Harvard, the preseason favorite to win the Ivy League. ap file photo

Monday, November 06, 2017

It’s shaping up as a very exciting season for the Yale men’s basketball team.

Eight of 17 voters chose Yale to win the Ivy League championship during the league’s preseason poll, although Harvard narrowly edged the Bulldogs in the poll as the preseason favorite to win the league title.

For Makai Mason, the success is what you work for, but just being able to play the game this season will be special in an of itself.

The Greenfield native and senior Bulldogs captain, returns this season after missing the entire 2016-17 campaign due to a preseason foot injury against Boston University that required surgery last fall. Mason began returning to light basketball drills in the spring and has continued rehabbing the foot over the summer and into the fall. He was recently named the Ivy League preseason Player of the Year.

Now, just three days away from Friday’s regular-season opener at Creighton University, the point guard is ready to go and make the most of his final season with the team.

“I’ve been pretty much out of basketball for a year now,” Mason said Sunday night. “It’s been a lot of watching.”

Mason is a big reason why Yale should be in position for one of the four spots in the postseason Ivy League tournament, which would give the Bulldogs a prime chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Two years ago, Mason splashed into the national spotlight after leading Yale to the tournament for the first time since 1962. He then scored a game-high 31 points to lead the 12th-seeded Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tourney win with a 79-75 win over fifth-seeded Baylor. The Bulldogs were ousted in the second round by Duke, 71-64, but the bar had been set and expectations remained high going into last season.

Then life took an unexpected turn. Mason was being talked about in plenty of circles after not only playing for Yale, but also for his strong summer abroad playing for the German national team, which he was eligible for thanks to his mother retaining German citizenship. He had even gauged the interest of teams in the NBA draft and was looking to win over even more interest with his play last season. All that was derailed when he was hurt in the preseason game. He hopes it’s behind him.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “We had a couple scrimmages and the team is looking good. Right now, I’m still kind of doing about half the reps. I’m doing everything live, but I just want to stay off the foot a little bit and ease back in. I’m pleased with the progress.”

The outlook for Yale is strong. Going into last season, the team was in a bit of transition and the loss of Mason made things seem even more desperate. Head coach James Jones did a nice job of keeping the team focused and the Bulldogs finished third in the Ivy League in the regular season. Last season was the first year that the Ivy League had a postseason tournament. In year’s past, the regular-season winner of the league got the automatic bid to the tournament. Yale earned the third seed in the four-team field and defeated second-seeded Harvard, 73-71, to make the finals before falling to Princeton, 71-59, in the title game, sending the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament.

The good news is that Yale is the return of three top four scorers from a year ago — not including Mason, who led the team two years ago. Throw him in with fellow guards Miye Oni and Trey Phills, and the team will enter the season with three backcourt performers capable of starting. Oni was named preseason All-Ivy League and has also drawn NBA attention. Some people around college basketball believe that Mason and Oni could give the Bulldogs one of the best backcourts in the land.

“We are confident with the guys that we have. If we stay healthy, we should have a good season,” he said.

After opening Friday with Creighton, a team projected to make this year’s tournament, Yale will travel to Wisconsin Sunday at 6 p.m. to take on the Badgers and star player Ethan Happ. That game can be seen on the Big 10 Network.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.