Sporting Life

Yale hoops star explores his European roots

Makai Mason ’18 spent the summer trying out for the German national team. 

Evan Frondorf ’14 is currently finishing a book on generic pharmaceuticals and drug pricing.

Daniel Löb/Picture-Alliance/dpa/Ap Images

Daniel Löb/Picture-Alliance/dpa/Ap Images

Makai Mason ’18 (right) played for the German national team in a game with Ukraine in Wuerzberg, Germany, in July. View full image

Like a lot of Yale undergrads, Makai Mason ’18 went to Europe this summer. But it wasn’t exactly study abroad. Mason was there to try out for the German national team, hoping for a chance to compete in FIBA EuroBasket 2017, the continent’s top basketball showcase.

Mason comes from Massachusetts, but he holds both a German and a US passport; his mother, Jody Sieben, was born in Mainz, less than an hour from Frankfurt. As a sophomore last year, he played a key role in one of the best seasons in Yale hoops history, scoring 31 points in the Bulldogs’ upset of fifth-seeded Baylor in the NCAA Tournament.

After the season, he stuck a toe in professional waters by declaring for the NBA draft but withdrew to return to Yale. In Europe this summer, he went on to make the German roster and help the team qualify for the EuroBasket tournament next summer. (Whether he’ll play or not depends on if he’s invited back—and his own professional plans.)

As it happens, he played alongside Maodo Lo, the Berliner who had frustrated Yale defenses for years as an All-Ivy guard at Columbia. Mason played in three qualifying games in late August and September, traveling to Denmark and the Netherlands on the weekends even as he was beginning his fall semester at Yale. “I had a lot of fun just acting like kids with some 30-year-old guys,” he says. The Germans all spoke English, but “they put up with my random injections of German words.”

Mason wasn’t the only Bulldog up for a spot on a EuroBasket roster. Newly minted grad Justin Sears ’16, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year and winner of Yale’s William Neely Mallory Award, was one of 24 players named to the preliminary roster for Great Britain’s team at EuroBasket qualifiers. Sears is a New Jersey native, but his mother, Lorna, is from Derby in the United Kingdom.

Sears did not end up on the final Great Britain roster, but he still found himself on the other side of the Atlantic. In July, he began his professional career by signing with the Giessen 46ers, who play in Germany’s top-tier Basketball Bundesliga—making him one of a number of recent b-ball alumni to sign European deals, including Armani Cotton ’15 (Leuven, Belgium), Javier Duren ’15 (Kaposvár, Hungary), and Nick Victor ’16 (Gimle, Norway).

Meanwhile, Mason is back in New Haven and ready to become Yale’s main source of firepower. He says his European experience was an important step in his growth as a competitor. “The pace of the game is quicker over there,” says Mason. “I also improved my range [by] shooting the FIBA three-pointer”—since international play requires a more distant arc.

This time around, Mason will have to deal with the pressure of high expectations. The Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the Ivy League in this year’s preseason conference poll, but after last year’s conference title and historic upset in the NCAA Tournament, a lot of eyes will be on Yale—and on Mason. But his old teammate isn’t worried. Mason “deserves all the success coming his way,” Sears wrote on Instagram. “He’s going to lead this Yale team to big things this upcoming season.”

The comment period has expired.