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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Willhite named Yale captain

Just days before the Yale men’s basketball team was scheduled to open the 2010-11 season they learned that captain Mike Sands had left the school.
The Bulldogs were suddenly not only left staring down the throat of a demanding schedule but they had to do so without their leading returning scorer and team-voted leader.
It truly looked like Yale was in for a long season. Instead, the Bulldogs banded together, and made a run at the Ivy League title.
That group’s resiliency brings a smile to Reggie Willhite’s face and makes him eager to take the reins of captain for the upcoming season.
“It’s actually surreal,” Willhite said. “(Being named captain) is something that I feel so blessed about.
“We’re a close-knit team. When you see one of us you see three of us. We’re always together and I want to it remain that way.”
Willhite said losing Sands actually made the team closer because they knew the immense challenge that was in front of them. And it was also Sands’ goal to improve the team’s camaraderie.
“I’ve always seen myself as a leader by example,” Willhite said. “Now I need to be the leader in weight room. I need to be the leader on the court and off the court.
“I want to be the voice of the team especially for the younger players who are sometimes afraid to speak to the coaches.”
Willhite said he will bank on the experience that he’s gained in several roles on the team. He is a dynamic athlete capable of scoring in bunches but often defers his offense.
Willhite posted career-highs in points (9.4 ppg.), rebounds (4.4 rpg.), assists (68) and steals (40) this year as a junior.
“I hear a lot of times, ‘Why don’t you score more?’” Willhite said. “But those comments come from people who don’t understand what we’re doing on the court. Everything I do comes from within the framework of the team’s plans.”
One thing that is a constant in the game plan is that Willhite will guard the opposition’s best offensive player. And most nights he shuts them down. Combining with junior center and first team All-Ivy selection Greg Mangano, who set the school mark for blocked shots, Yale finished first in the league field goal defense and third in scoring.
The Bulldogs finished with 15 wins, their most since the 2005-06 season. One of the most impressive victories came at Boston College in November. Yale was 8-6 in Ivy play, including a 70-69 win over league co-champion Harvard. The Bulldogs have now finished fourth or better in league play in each of the last 11 years.
“(Willhite’s) the best athlete on the team,” Yale coach James Jones said during the season. “And he’s always going to get the other team’s player.”
Willhite was named the team’s most improved player award, started all 28 games and finished third in the Ivy League in steals (1.4 per game) and seventh in field goal percentage (.448).
Willhite said that he feels the team overachieved last year, especially after losing Sands.
“We’ve discussed all the little things that need to take place for us to contend for the Ivy League title next year,” Willhite said. “We know we have the talent and we expect to be right there.”
Yale is tentatively scheduled to open the 2011-12 season on Nov. 12 against Central Connecticut in the Connecticut 6 Classic at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Junior forward Michelle Cashen was named captain of the women’s team. Cashen helped the Bulldogs earn a berth in WNIT last season.

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