It’s not Gucci.
That’s the Twitter handle of Yale junior guard Armani Cotton. It’s not the first sartorially-inspired pun about the swingman’s name - Armani Exchange is an old favorite - but it’s got a certain truth behind it.
See, Armani Cotton isn’t the basketball equivalent of some cheap fake handbag that you can get for eight bucks on a lower Manhattan street corner.
He’s the real deal.
Thanks to Cotton’s tremendous growth on the basketball court, the Bulldogs are in position to earn a postseason appearance for only the second time since the 2002 team earned a trip to the NIT after finishing second in a three-team playoff.
It’s easy to draw parallels between this 2014 squad - which currently sits a game behind Harvard for first place in the Ancient Eight - and the 2002 one . That 2002 squad was cohesive and unified under coach James Jones’ message.
This year, Cotton - along with leaders like Justin Sears and Matt Townsend - is what’s holding the Bulldogs together in a similar vein.
“I think I would attribute that [team chemistry] to our intensity in practice,” he said. “And I think that extends to all guys that we play with. We use a lot of bodies on the team, so I think that chemistry has to prevail throughout so there’s not a letdown.”
With Cotton on the floor, there haven’t been too many letdowns. After bursting out of relative obscurity last year to finish fifth in the Ivy League in rebounds per game (5.3), all of the New York City native’s key peripherals have improved this season.
The numbers are gaudy. Cotton’s rebounding totals are up to 5.6 per game, and his scoring average is inching closer to double figures after scoring at least 13 points in four out of his last five contests.
But Cotton thinks his game still has room to change more under Jones’ tutelage.
“I pride myself on being versatile. Being able to get rebounds, shoot, obviously, and do a lot with my height (6-foot-7),” he said. “But to be able to make other players better, I think that’s probably some of the most impressive things you can do as a player, so that’s one facet of my game that I definitely want to improve upon.”
And if you want to find some players that have made Cotton better, all you need to do is change the channel to any NBA game.
Playing in the pro-am Nike Pro City League back home in the summer after his quiet freshman campaign, Cotton put himself up against some of the league’s best while leading his Dyckman/NYAC team to the league finals.
Cotton knew how valuable it was to play alongside and against NBA players like Carmelo Anthony, Mike Dunleavy and J.R. Smith before suffering an MCL sprain.
“It’s a really great privilege that I had to play against guys of that caliber,” Cotton said. “I’ve been really, really lucky and fortunate to play with these guys and learn from them - really pick their brains in terms of how they take care of their body and how they approach the game.”
Cotton’s a quick learner. Long gone are the days of three-minute stints back in freshman year and the rough patches of last year’s 14-17 campaign.
Now, after being steered into the right position by Jones and the NBA’s best, Cotton has the Bulldogs poised to take the next step - back into the NIT or perhaps, with a little luck, even farther than that.
“It’s been a maturity process,” he said. “It’s something that I really appreciate, because with any team that you play with, you’re going to have to make adjustments to your game for the benefit of the whole.”
Yale is reaping those benefits now.
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