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Former Greeley Star Townsend, Rhodes Scholar, Shoots For Ivy Title At Yale

Chappaqua's Matt Townsend has combined basketball success with academic brilliance at Yale University.
Chappaqua's Matt Townsend has combined basketball success with academic brilliance at Yale University. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yale Athletics

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Former Horace Greeley High School star Matt Townsend combined a steady basketball career with a brilliant education during his four years at Yale University. Now, the senior is ready to take the next step in both.

Townsend is trying to help the Bulldogs make their first NCAA Tournament berth in 43 years. Friday’s road game at Harvard will likely determine the Ivy League champion. Yale and Harvard are tied atop the conference with 10-2 league records. After Friday’s game, each team will have one game remaining in the regular season.

Win or lose, Townsend’s future is set when the basketball season ends. In November, he was named a Rhodes Scholar. The Chappaqua resident was one of 32 students selected for the program, and he will begin his studies in Oxford, England in October. Townsend is majoring in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and has a perfect academic record across the sciences, economics, and Latin.

The task at hand Friday for Yale (21-8) is getting past Harvard, which beat the Bulldogs, 52-50, in New Haven on Feb. 7. If Yale wins, it would need to beat Dartmouth (12-14) in its final regular season game to clinch the Ivy berth.

“It would definitely make my career,’’ Townsend said. “My freshman year we came in fourth, and then we were third and last year were second. To continue that progression and get it done this year would really be special.”

Townsend, a 6-7 forward, has been a three-year starter at Yale. He is having his best season with 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. At Greeley, he averaged 28.8 points and 15.9 rebounds as a senior and is the school's all-time leading scorer (1,516 points) and rebounder (1,021).

Townsend said learning fundamentals under longtime coach Dave Fernandes at Greeley helped him adapt to his role at Yale.

“I think I learned so much that I didn’t realize it until I left,’’ Townsend said. “He was great at getting us to go out and give 100 percent every game. That’s something I’ve taken to college. He taught me how to hit the mid-range jump shot, boxing out and taking care of the smaller details.”

Townsend said he was surprised he was named a Rhodes Scholar. There were 877 applicants, and the finalists were selected on academic excellence, and for their character, commitment to others and their potential for leadership.

Townsend, who was the valedictorian at Greeley, said he found it easier to combine academics and athletics at Yale than he anticipated.

“I thought students would be the stereotypical mad scientist or awkward brilliant kid," he said. "There are so many remarkable and talented people, but they’re all normal and nice."

Townsend plans to attend Oxford on his path toward a medical degree. He has a particular interest in the socio-cultural, environmental and biological roots of obesity-related diseases. He said the long-term goal is to work in academic medicine in a university hospital setting, conduct research and have a hand in public policy with food and obesity.

“I think a big thing on the agenda is relative food pricing,’’ Townsend said. “It doesn’t make sense from a public-health standpoint that soda is much cheaper than a gallon of skim milk. We need to make it easier for consumers to access nutritional information. We need to re-create labeling and information systems for people to make better food choices.”

With all that he has accomplished, Townsend is grateful he took the time to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship.

“When I was thinking about applying, the odds were so low,’’ Townsend said. “There are so many fantastic students. I decided the potential upside would be worth it, and I was fortunate to have that honor work out.”

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