Yale basketball’s big weekend was made even better as forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar

Photo courtesy: Yale Athletics

By: Joel Alderman

The term student athlete is often overused and misapplied by those seeking to boost some college undergraduates, whose main purpose in enrolling is to play sports and not further themselves academically. But Yale’s Matt Townsend, a regular on the Bulldogs’ basketball team, gave the expression student athlete more validity over the weekend when he was selected as one of just 32 new Rhodes Scholars from this country.

It means he will receive roughly $50,000 in annual benefits for two or three years, or enough to cover the cost of his post graduate studies at Oxford University in England starting next October.

He missed the first two games Yale played this past weekend in the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic, but rejoined the team in time for the windup against the host, Kent State. Townsend played a key role in Yale’s come-from-behind 66-59 win.

Matt Townsend, Yale's new Rhodes Scholar, taking a shot against Kent State. (YaleBulldogs.com)
Matt Townsend, Yale’s new Rhodes Scholar, taking a shot against Kent State. (YaleBulldogs.com)

The Bulldogs trailed 32-24 at halftime and did not take the lead for good, 59-58, until there was 1:12 left. The go-ahead basket came on Townsend’s driving lay-up.

The new Rhodes Scholar shot a perfect five for five from the floor and was 2 for 2 from the foul line. He also had four rebounds and two assists.

“I just tried to come back and give it my all and bring some fresh legs to the team,” Matt said. “It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime weekend.”

He admitted that when he was at the interviews he would excuse himself to go to the bathroom in order to check the scores on his phone.

Yale coach James Jones said in Ohio that he was “really happy for Matt. I know he was dying that he couldn’t be here with his team. He’s a great teammate.”

Townsend is the fourth Yale basketball player in 46 years to be named as a Rhodes Scholar. The others were Bob McCallum (1968), Mike Oristaglio (1974) and Jim McGuire (1976). They were by no means stars, but they didn’t have to be. Rhodes Scholarships have nothing to do with sports.

Matt as a scholar

Townsend compiled a perfect 4.0 grade point average and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, one of only eight in his class. He is majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

Matt as a player

So far in his Yale career Matt Townsend has appeared in 83 games, in which he started 41. Last year he started 22 games and was the only player on the team to start all 14 Ivy League contests. Townsend was third on the team in rebounding average (4.0).

rhodes Yale basketball’s big weekend was made even better as forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes ScholarWhat is a Rhodes Scholar anyway?

Rhodes Scholarships are administered by a British charity named The Rhodes Trust. It provides the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world. Each year 32 American college and university students are chosen, along with other scholars from various countries. to pursue degrees at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England.

In releasing the names of this year’s 32 recipients, the Trust issued the profile: for each. Townsend’s follows.

“Matthew J. Townsend, Chappaqua, New York, is a senior at Yale University majoring in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. Elected as a junior to Phi Beta Kappa, he has a perfect academic record across the sciences, economics, and Latin. Matt has complemented his work in medical sciences with deep interests in the psychology of health, the history of disease, and the social networks that affect health, and has a particular interest in the socio-cultural, environmental and biological roots of obesity-related diseases.

“He is also a two-year starter on the Yale varsity basketball team, where he won the award as the top defensive player; and a volunteer, shift-leader and then co-coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project. At Oxford, Matt plans to do the Masc. in Medical Anthropology.”

One of the best known former basketball players to gain a Rhodes Scholarship was Bill Bradley. He made an unsuccessful bid for a presidential nomination in 1960.

Other winners

Among the other 31 U.S. recipients there are three more from Yale. Although they are not athletes, and because we here are all about sports, I will not go into detail about them. However, I am pleased to include Jordan Konnell and June Darby Menton, both seniors, and Gabriel Zucker, who graduated in 2012. We will leave the general media to publish more about them.

Townsend follows in the tradition of two basketball stars of the past, Bill Bradley (Princeton) and Tom McMillan (Maryland), who were both Rhodes Scholars, NBA stars, and U.S. Congressmen.

Matt will be the second Yale basketball player in as many years to gain entry into a prestigious circle. Last year it was Brandon Sherrod who was admitted into the historic Whiffinpoofs singing group.

Townsend is a very good basketball player at Yale, but admittedly not in Bradley’s or McMillan’s class. However, he doesn’t have to be. As a Rhodes Scholar he has the same credentials as Bradley and McMillan did and the potential for doing big things in life. He might even enable his “team” to take the lead at a crucial time and to go 5 for 5 in the “game of life,” just as he did Sunday.

Yale hosts Lafayette at the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.  The new Rhodes Scholar will be back in action.

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