When they decided to break up the Penn-Princeton monopoly on Ivy men's basketball, they forgot to tell Harvard Coach Frank McLaughlin about it.
"I don't think it's true until they prove it," says the Crimson coach, who's still convinced it might just take a new federal anti-trust act to break up the most powerful dynasty ever to hit the Ivy League.
But if ever there were a year when another team seemed capable of proving that the balance of power has shifted in Ivy men's basketball, none seems better than this.
And if ever there were a year when the Harvard squad seemed capable of that mindboggling feat, none seems better than--exactamundo--this one.
With the return of sleek-shooting forward Joe Carrabino after last year's painful back injury, there seems to be more power in Cambridge than on any Crimson squad since that 20-3 team of 50 years ago. And though, as far as winning traditions go, the Harvard men's basketball squad's rivals the Titanic's, the 1983-84 edition seems ready to change all that.
"In the seven years I've been here, this is one of the most talented squads we've had," McLaughlin boasts.
But you have to go back almost a quarter of a century to find a name besides Penn or Princeton on the Ivy Champion list. And even with all that talent on his own team, McLaughlin is still quick to warn that "Penn and Princeton are as talented as anyone in the league."
No change there.
"But the thing is that it's not dominating talent," he says.
Big change there.
There's no prediction of an immediate coup out of Briggs Cage, however, only guarded optimism. "I think there's a lot of talk right now," McLaughlin says. "But I think it has to be backed up with some actions. Let's see Penn and Princeton finish third or fourth. It's one thing to say it but it's another thing to see it."
If this is really The Year for Harvard, no one figures to play a bigger role than Carrabino. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year and standout forward spent all but three games on the bench last year as his squad slipped to a disappointing 12-14 overall and 4-10 in league play.
His return to the lineup paid immediate dividends last Saturday, when he contributed 30 points and nine rebounds in the squad's season-opening win over Merrimack. "Carrabino makes everyone better," McLaughlin says. "His presence on the court allows us to do different things."
Different things like the Crimson's 3-2 defensive zone. Consistently the biggest question mark of the Crimson squad, the Harvard defense is now designed to take away the inside lane from opponents.
"We want to force people to take shots from the outside," Co-Captain Monroe Trout says. "You can't win by only shooting jump shots."
You also can't win if your big man is on the bench, as the 6-ft., 10-in. Trout was for the Merrimack contest. Currently plagued by a hand injury, Trout figures to platoon with Carrabino and the squad's other big man, Co-Captain Ken Plutnicki.
With that trio working the middle, the perimeters should be open for the outside shots of sophomore Greg Wildes and the Crimson's other former Rookie of the Year, Bob Ferry.
A standout guard his high school years at top-notch DeMatha High School in Washington, D.C. and his fist two years on the Harvard squad, Ferry should provide the consistent jump shot ability to complement the consistent inside ability of Carrabino.
So with the Carrabino-Trout-Plutnicki team sharing two spots on the court, and Wildes and Ferry taking two others, that leaves only the point guard position open.
And therein lies the Crimson's biggest question mark. Not so much because sophomore Pat Smith--the starter--and junior Kevin Boyle--the very able backup--don't have the talent to replace the graduated Calvin Dixon.
"The only problem I see there," McLaughlin says, "is inexperience."
Add sophomore Arne Duncan and freshman Keith Webster to that inexperienced but talented group and you come up with a Crimson squad that looks on paper like one of the best ever.
The Crimson will get a preview of just how good all that talent is tonight in its Ivy opener against Dartmouth, at 7:30 p.m. in Briggs Cage.