Game #8-516: Princeton Tigers at Yale BulldogsFebruary 4, 2012 7:00 pm
John J. Lee Amphitheater
"Follow your dreams."
"Don't let anyone stand in your way."
"You can be whatever you want to be."
If you've been involved in sports (or likely even if you haven't), you've heard them all.
But in our heart, most of the time we know when it comes to athletics, and particularly in a sport like basketball, dreams play second-fiddle to what Gregor Mendel figured out 150 years ago: a little thing called genetics.
So basically, most of the time, all those quotes are a load of hooey. But there are exceptions. And we live for those exceptions, don't we?
I've worn many different hats over the last decade, probably too many, but two of them are as a coach and a local reporter. And, while time distorts the exact time, somewhere in the winter of 2005-2006, I sauntered into a boys high school game at a local high school. While the school where I coach has only girls, its "brother" school was playing on our night off.
The JV game was running late, and there was a red-headed 6-foot-5 chubby kid out there who, obviously, stood out. He was shooting jump shots, had pretty good hands, but had all kinds of trouble getting up and down the floor, which was why - I guessed - he was stuck on the JV squad.
"Who is that kid?" I asked someone at the game.
"His name is Greg Mangano. Nice kid. Transferred in this year. He has some potential if he fills out and can get himself into better shape. But we'll see."
And with that, the varsity game was played and it was just another night among many indistinguishable ones in the large basketball universe.
I never saw the kid play again in high school, but an assistant coach by the name of Jason Shea, who saw the kid every day, took it upon himself to get Mangano into shape. And Mangano took it upon himself to do the same.
As it turned out, not only did Mangano get into better shape, he grew five inches, and suddenly he was a 6-foot-10 player who could shoot
The rest, of course, is history. Although he's far from a household name, he probably should be in these parts. While "dominant" may be a little extreme, Mangano put up some gaudy numbers his last two years of high school, good enough to get the attention of plenty of mid-majors. With his grades firmly in order, he ended up staying local with Yale.
Mangano kept working hard, kept getting stronger and better, and last season, in his junior year, led the Ivy League in rebounding, was second in scoring, and set a league record for blocked shots. He actually played for the USA at the World University Games in China heading into this, his final college campaign.
Ironically, he seems to struggle when I show up to watch him. I went with a fellow coach to watch Quinnipiac hold Mangano to five points early this season, leaving him to wonder how he could be an NBA prospect.
But, with the notable exception of an lopsided loss to Harvard, Mangano and the Bulldogs are on quite a run. Maybe you hadn't noticed, and that's OK. There are so many schools, so many leagues, and Yale isn't making headlines with multiple Red Line upsets or anything.
However, for a program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1962, putting together back-to-back winning seasons in the Ivy League (something they've done only three times in the last 35 years) is an accomplishment.
Coming off a win over Penn Friday night, Yale had a chance to sweep Penn and Princeton at Lee Amphitheather Saturday, another rare feat for the Bulldogs, considering those two have dominated so much of the recent history of the Ivy League.
As I walked in, I saw Mangano's parents and his high school coach, Gary Palladino, whom I know from covering him. Palladino was a stand-out at Hartford, and coached there while they were Division II, before becoming a local high school legend.
Shea was there as well. I covered him when he played, too, and asked him about Mangano, he said, "All I did was show up. That kid ran and ran and ran to get in shape. A lot of people talk about it, but not many follow through and stay with it."
It was a big game, but most people still think Harvard is winning the Ivy League, and the hockey team -- which sells out every game -- was playing next door against Clarkson, so the crowd wasn't enormous, and the band was at the rink.
Mangano opened the game with a three, but Princeton opened up a 10-5 lead before going cold. Ice cold. Sub-zero cold. As in, they went 10 minutes without a point, and by then Yale had a 21-10 advantage.
Princeton seems like a team in flux. Sydney Johnson left, and Mitch Henderson -- an alum -- is now in charge, but the Tigers won't win the Ivy League this season. They used some un-Princeton-like things, like a 1-3-1 zone and full-court pressure, to get back into the game, even after an omgdunx by Yale's Reggie Willhite that anyone at any level would be proud of gave the hosts a 44-33 lead midway through the second half. Maybe Willhite -- for my money the most athletic player in the Ivy -- learned some of that stuff here.
As the Yale lead slowly began to shrink, all the way down to 50-47 with 2:30 left on a jumper by leading scorer Ian Hummer, I kept looking across at Mangano's parents. There was the occasional head-in-hands reaction or basic cheering, but nothing over the top. It was Mangano who hit the key shot, a straight-away three-pointer, on the next possession to give Yale much-needed breathing room. That got them out of their seats.
Princeton got to within two with a minute left, but Mangano and crew made enough free throws to finish off a 58-54 win to move to 5-1 in the Ivy. Mangano finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, another night at the office.
Ironically, the final Princeton miss was by Doug Davis, who 11 months ago on the same floor, hit the shot against Harvard that sent the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament (that's me in the front row next to the word Yale). Davis was held to just six points on just 2-of-12 shooting. Funny how life works that way sometimes.
But as much as karma and being in the right place at the right time helps, as Thomas Jefferson (is reported to have) said, "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Greg Mangano may never be a household name (as of this writing, he's got less than 300 Twitter followers. C'mon, people.) Barring a collapse by Harvard, he may never make it on television this season. But we're used to that in these parts, aren't we? Working our butts off for little recognition? For the love of the game?
But it's OK, really. Through hard work, Mangano is living the dream. And he didn't let any of the doubters get in the way.
Doubters like me.
|at YALE 58, PRINCETON 54|
PRINCETON 11-10 (2-3) -- D. Davis 2-12 2-2 6; I. Hummer 5-10 8-9 18; T. Bray 2-4 0-0 5; B. Hazel 0-5 0-0 0; M. Darrow 5-13 0-0 11; P. Saunders 4-6 0-0 10; B. Connolly 1-5 2-4 4; D. Koon 0-2 0-0 0; J. Sherburne 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-57 12-15 54.
YALE 15-5 (5-1) -- R. Willhite 9-16 1-2 20; G. Mangano 6-17 6-8 20; A. Morgan 1-9 3-5 5; J. Kreisberg 3-6 3-4 9; M. Grace 0-4 0-0 0; J. Pritchard 0-2 2-2 2; B. Sherrod 1-2 0-0 2; S. Martin 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-57 15-21 58.
Three-point goals: PRIN 4-21 (P. Saunders 2-2; D. Davis 0-5; I. Hummer 0-1; M. Darrow 1-8; T. Bray 1-3; B. Hazel 0-2), YALE 3-20 (G. Mangano 2-6; R. Willhite 1-6; M. Grace 0-2; S. Martin 0-1; A. Morgan 0-4; J. Pritchard 0-1); Rebounds: PRIN 33 (T. Bray 8), YALE 39 (G. Mangano 12); Assists: PRIN 9 (D. Davis 2), YALE 12 (A. Morgan 5); Total Fouls -- PRIN 19, YALE 16; Fouled Out: PRIN-None; YALE-None.
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