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Makai Mason Ready To Give Yale His Best In 2017-18, Then Move On

Makai Mason says he'll be focused enough to give the Yale basketball team all he can next season, even though he's already announced he'll use his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer somewhere else.

Mason missed all of last season and has two years of athletic eligibility left. He will graduate in 2018 and move on from Yale.

"I'm locked in for next year," Mason said. "It's always about what you can do right now. I think our team has a chance to make the [Ivy League Tournament] again and make another run in the [NCAA] Tournament. We have a lot of talented kids on the team. I'm definitely looking forward to that."

And then he is looking forward to grad school and a tougher level of college basketball in the 2018-19 season.

Mason broke his foot a week before last season started and missed the whole year. Now the 6-foot-1 guard is back for 2017-18, having recently been named a captain and cleared for basketball activities, minus contact.

Mason led the Bulldogs to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, their first trip in 54 years. He was coming back last season as the conference's preseason player of the year. And then it was over.

"It was tough being out; you're used to working out on the court and being locked in and ready to go," Mason said. "To not be able to be in that mindset, knowing you're not going out to compete that night ... it's tough. But at the same time it was good to be able to watch my teammates grow out there and take on bigger roles. They did well this season. I'm looking forward to getting out there with those guys again."

It may be for the last time but it could be a memorable time. The Bulldogs went 18-11, 9-5 in the Ivy League last season with such players as Alex Copeland (12.9 points), Miye Oni (12.9), and Trey Phills (7.1) taking their games to another level.

Yale reached the inaugural Ivy League Tournament final, upsetting Harvard in the semifinals after the Crimson swept the Bulldogs during the regular season. Princeton beat Yale in the championship game to get the NCAA Tournament automatic bid.

Yale's success doesn't mean Mason wasn't sorely missed. In the 2015-16 season he became only the fourth sophomore in school history to average 16 points and dropped a school-record 31 on Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He put his name in for the NBA draft but withdrew.

Had Mason not missed last season this would have been his final year of athletic eligibility, so Yale coach James Jones said he will be prepared for Mason's departure.

Mason, a political science major, has been in contact with schools. He's been talking to coaching staffs trying to determine the best fit, but he's not mentioning any schools at this point.

"Trying to find the best fit for me in terms of a role and in terms of what they're going to offer for grad school," Mason said. "I'm trying to find a place where you're pretty much guaranteed to make the tournament and a chance to compete for a championship."

Mason hasn't hidden his intentions. He wants to play professional basketball, and preferably in the NBA. Playing at a higher college level, he figures, will prepare him more.

"That's been the main goal all along, that end game," he said. "To go against guys in practice [at a higher level of college ball], those guys every day will make you that much better, and being able to compete against some of the best guards in the country."

Before he leaves Yale, Mason is likely to get a boost from his teammates and one dynamic player on Tommy Amaker's team at Harvard, sophomore Bryce Aiken. Copeland, Oni and Phills elevated their games and should only get better with Mason in the Yale mix.

"The fact you've got guys who can contribute at every spot at a high level just bodes well for your team," Jones said. "We defend, we rebound and we share the ball, so with those three things in mind, having a guy like Makai back really helps, and the fact he has good players next to him helps out a lot.

"So let me ask you a question?" he continued. "Who are you going to put your best defender on, on the perimeter?"

Yale will be tough to defend, which was the case with Harvard's Aiken last season when the Bulldogs put numerous defenders on him with few results. Aiken scored 27 at Yale, 22 at Harvard and 28 in the conference semifinal loss to the Bulldogs. If there were any games Mason wished he could have played, it was those.

"Definitely, especially at home," Mason said. "They had the good freshman. He's a talent. It would have been good."

Still, as he sat, he learned.

"You kind of take apart what your teammates are doing that they could be doing differently," Mason said. "Then you kind of imagine going through the same play and you see the different reads and how the defense reacts to what moves the guys are making, so you kind of catalog those things when you're watching the games. I think it definitely helped."

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