Sam Downey was a force underneath for Yale last season, finely tuning his post moves were finally tuned and helping the Elis reach the Ivy League Tournament championship game at The Palestra.
The Elis return a strong group of guards in Makai Mason, Trey Phills, Alex Copeland and Miye Oni, which puts them at the top of the conference in terms of Ancient Eight backcourts. But how to replace Downey?
Enter Paul Atkinson from West Palm Beach. The 6-10 pivot man from Westminster Academy led his team to a state championship as a senior and runner-up finish as a junior.
He was coveted by the likes of Dayton, Old Dominion, James Madison, Richmond and South Alabama.
But academics were and are huge to Atkinson and Yale brought that to the table, along with a basketball team which could make an NCAA run. Atkinson knew that and really liked the Yale campus on his official visit.
Coach James Jones noted after almost a month of practice that,”Paul has done a great job for us thus far. He has a great feel for the game and has proven to be a force at the basket.”
In practice, Atkinson brings calm and maturity, making him look like a veteran. He has been a fixture at center and has both played alongside veteran Blake Reynolds and manned the post alone. Atkinson has also shown an ability to avoid classic freshman fouls.
Yale has a trio of top frosh, but Atkinson may be the most important frosh piece for a team which is sure to make a deep Ivy run. Since another top contender, Harvard, is very strong and deep up front, Atkinson will be needed in the two or three games which Yale will play against the Crimson, perhaps to decide it all.