MEN’S BASKETBALL: Senior Night crowns an unexpected turning point, a new role for Jameel Alausa
Tim Tai, staff photographer
When Yale forward Jameel Alausa ’22 decided to take a year off ahead of the 2020-2021 school year, he was completing a summer of nephrology research in New Haven. He planned to return home to Chicago, study for the MCAT, tutor and take online classes at Washington University in St. Louis.
He had no plans to have hip surgery. But by the start of 2021, Alausa had undergone two surgeries – one on each hip – with the first taking place in October 2020 and the second two months later in December.
Taking time off during an atypical pandemic school year was also a basketball decision; as a junior during the 2019–20 season, Alausa played 24 games after playing nine as a sophomore and 15 in his freshman year. He felt he had “unfinished business to prove” and the potential to contribute to a bigger role when Ivy League basketball returns.
“Before [the surgeries], I was training every day, preparing for a good season,” said Alausa. “It was [going to be] a good chance for me to become one of the older guys and get to know the system. But recurring pain in his hips led Alausa to see a doctor, who told him a genetic defect and torn labrals meant that if he didn’t opt for surgery he would likely need a replacement. the hip soon.
The double surgery and lingering pain derailed plans for a big senior year on the court when Alausa returned to New Haven last fall. Instead, he had to learn to contribute without logging playing time. Coming on last weekend, he had played just two minutes this season, both in Yale’s opener against opponents of Division III Vassar. But Alausa remained involved as a veteran voice with the program, bringing his high energy and optimistic spirit when he felt healthy enough to train and taking on a mentoring role for the nine players on the roster. Yale who entered the season without any college basketball experience.
“It’s something I struggled with a lot,” Alausa said in an interview ahead of Yale’s senior night on Saturday against Brown. “If that’s where God is leading me, where it’s not safe to play, I’m not going to overdo it… [but] I didn’t want to do nothing. I didn’t want to be just a token guy.
Senior Night, in some ways, was a celebration of his adopted role. Alausa estimated he had about 20 people – family, his fiancée, friends, cousins, former coaches – in attendance for Yale’s victory over Brown on Saturday night. Along with the Yale bench, they stood up when head coach James Jones brought Alausa into the game at the end of each half.
“I don’t think I was happier to see anyone come into the game than I was to see Jameel come in today,” said captain and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22. “That made my day.”
When Alausa had a start-of-the-year meeting with Jones last fall, he let his head coach know he didn’t feel fully recovered. At the time, Alausa was still planning to head to a fully restored physical state for the start of the season, but realized that he might not be able to train and compete in any way he could. consistently over a season of about five months. Last summer, more than six months after his second surgery, he returned to playing and competing in amateur leagues in Chicago. At the start of the school year, he trained every day during pre-season, but suffered for an hour or two after training.
His injury was unusual. Unlike other surgeries with standard recovery times, Alausa’s hips were less predictable. Some days he could fully practice. On others, it felt like he couldn’t even get out of bed. He reassessed with his surgeon — Benjamin Domb, a male basketball player from Princeton former student — and other doctors, who had him experiment with different routines but warned him that overdoing it would continue to break down what little cartilage he had left.
When Yale’s season opener against Vassar took place in early November, Alausa was still trying to push his body.
“I wanted to play so badly,” Alausa said. “It was the biggest thing I wanted to do. It was my biggest goal this year. But I think the most important thing was the consistency to play every day…I [wasn’t] sure if I could practice seven, eight days in a row.
Alausa approached Jones and recalled a “tough and torn” conversation where he had to come to terms with his vision for the past year and the physical realities holding him back. His teammates reassured him that taking care of his long-term health was most important, but not being able to train consistently and adapt to his support role presented a mental battle for Alausa. He thanked his family and fiancée for helping him come to terms with how his senior year was going. Jones told him that the program, and especially Yale’s young players, still needed him.
Alausa also recalled a conversation he had with teammate LaWan Swain, the father of guard Azar Swain ’22.
“Whatever you do, he just told me I bring more than I can do on the pitch,” Alausa said of their conversation, which helped him come to terms with his less-than-ideal situation. . “He said guys actually gravitate towards you and you can have a role and impact on young guys… if you can still be with guys and have a role and impact them and use your spirit and your connection with the team to have a role, you will never regret it.”
Yale’s 74-65 win over Brown on Saturday cemented an 11-3 Ivy League record for the Bulldogs, who finished second in the Ancient Eight and will face No. 3 Penn in the conference tournament semifinals. this Saturday. The year began with ups and downs, surges of solid play followed by lackluster performance. Yale hasn’t string together back-to-back wins against Division I opponents during its non-conference schedule. “We’re not playing as well as the sum of our parts,” goalkeeper Eze Dike ’22 concluded after a mid-December loss to Monmouth.
Alausa said he thought Yale could have split before playing in the Ivy League, but the team responded by winning nine of its first 10 conference games. Alausa said he witnessed the collective growth has been significant. Knowing that he may have played a small role in its realization, this is what he will take from this unexpected experience in his final year.
Reserved off the field, Alausa adds a touch of motivation to training. Jones said he always pushed for reserves to beat starters in practice, speaking with a positive attitude.
“I’ve been a coach for 30 odd years, I don’t even know what the number is, and there’s no one I’ve wanted to see be more successful than I wanted to see Jameel’s success” , said Jones. . “He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever coached, and he wanted it as much as anyone I’ve ever coached…He gave us everything he could, and we’re grateful for that.”
A pre-med student and majoring in economics, Alausa also believed his revised stance this season affirmed one of his ultimate goals: to become a doctor. He saw parallels between his role in the program and what doctors basically do – help people get better. He found himself
talk to his teammates about their health, both physical and mental, as the season progresses.
“As a doctor you have to be very selfless, you have to be more focused on a group and the people who are getting better, your patients,” Alausa said. “Because usually when I was healthy I was just focusing on how can I be better, but now I’m thinking how can the team be better.”
Alausa volunteers in orthopedic and neurological emergency care at Yale New Haven Hospital, a position he started on Monday, as well as a student-run primary care center called HAVEN Free Clinic and at a center for palliative care called VITAS.