The following is a guest post by Harrison Malkin. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisonMalkin.
Powerhouse college basketball schools like Duke and Kentucky might not have taken notice of Plainfield, N.J. native Justin Sears when he was in high school, but Yale surely did, and the faculty at the school are starting to catch on as well.
“A lot of people are getting into this team,” Sears said. “I think that what I realized when I walked into one of my classes (Environmental Politics and Law)…the teacher recognized right away that I was on the team and started talking basketball with me.”
Despite earning first team all-state honors as a senior at Plainfield High, and notching more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career, Sears was mostly recruited by small college basketball programs.
Since taking his talents to Yale, a school nestled in New Haven, CT, Sears has been an effective force for the Bulldogs. He has been named to the Ivy League first team for the past two years, and was the first Yale sophomore to earn first team All-Ivy honors since Chris Dudley in 1984–85.
This season Sears has averaged 14.6 ppg on 49% percent shooting from the field, a better shooting percentage than Harvard’s Wesley Saunders along with two of the top five leading scorers in the nation. Sears has done it while posting 7.3 rpg. He has also helped lead Yale to a stellar season, with a 18–7 overall record and a 7–1 record in the Ivy League.
“He’s really been in attack mode,” Yale’s Jack Montague told the New Haven Register. “In my mind, he’s the best player in the Ivy League. I don’t think there’s a post player in the league that can guard him. He understands that as well.”
The last time the Bulldogs made March Madness was in 1962, when they lost in the first round to Wake Forest.
Right now, Yale is tied for first place in the conference with Harvard, and while there are still quite a few games left in the season, the Bulldogs’ home loss to the Crimson is their only one in the Ivy.
There were signs of this future back when Sears was in high school. During his senior year, Sears faced off with current Kentucky forward and projected NBA lottery pick Karl Towns and held him to zero points in a game.
Yale faced off against some of college basketball’s blue bloods earlier this season, such as UConn and Florida, and Sears held his own in those games as well, garnering double-digits in points.
Recently, the junior scored 25 points and had 19 boards in a win over Princeton on the road, a crucial win for Yale. Sears’ impact on his team in that critical game, and throughout the season have been transcendent.
Sears’ signature moment in the contest came in the second half, when Princeton was in the midst of a comeback. Sears blocked Princeton’s Hans Brase, a 6’8 forward, ran the floor, scored a layup and made the and-one.
“In our league, (Sears) so different,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “He’s long but he’s fast. The way he got out on Hans’ shot and block it, it was a gigantic play.”
While Yale finished four games in back of first place in the Ivy standings last year, ending up in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament instead of March Madness or even the NIT, this is a new season, and things are heading in a different and brighter direction for the Bulldogs.
“He’s given us what we’ve needed most every game. This weekend he really sought out opportunities,” said Yale head coach James Jones after his team’s win over Princeton.