Will Freshmen Have Last Laugh?
Casey at the Bat
NEW YORK--Three years from now, when Harvard freshmen Dana Smith and Ralph James are seniors leading the Crimson basketball team to an Ivy League title, they will probably look back at this past weekend and laugh.
The kind of laugh that you have after you survive an accident. Serious business at the time, but funny when you live to tell about it.
The two freshmen, who in their first college basketball games, composed the Crimson's starting backcourt, were matched up against St. John's awesome twosome of Greg "Boo" Harvey and Michael "Freak" Porter Saturday. Technically, it was the first game for both backcourts, but realistically there was a big difference in experience.
Last year at this time, Smith and James were preparing for incredible senior seasons less than 30 miles from St. John's Alumni Hall. Smith averaged 24 points and seven rebounds a game at Immaculate High School in Danbury, Conn., while James put in 23 points and 10 rebounds a game at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, N.Y.
In comparison, Harvey and Porter are both transfers from San Jacinto Junior College in Houston, Tex. San Jacinto is a junior college power, having posted a 73-1 record in the last two years with Harvey and Porter as the backcourt.
San Jacinto is the same place where former St. John's great Walter Berry fined-tuned his grades as well as his inside game. The same Walter Berry who is now playing for the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA.
Harvey and Porter know each other well--as well as they know the vinyl on the basketball.
"He helps me a lot," Harvey said of Porter. "He gets out on the break, and I know he will be there."
"I kind of know what he will do before it happens," said Porter.
The two used an assortment of no-look passes Saturday to set up five dunks and an array of showtime lay-ups in the second half of the Redmen's 105-60 thrashing of Harvard. Showtime deluxe.
In contrast, James and Smith were starting their first games against major college competition. And St. John's is as major as it gets.
Smith found out only three days before the game that he would be starting. James had known about his starting role for a week. But advance warning doesn't shoo away the butterflies.
Harvey, on the other hand, knew he would be a starter as soon as he decided to go to St. John's. The fans and the New York media have tabbed him and Porter as perhaps the best collegiate backcourt ever.
Against St. John's. James had a good game. In 23 minutes, James got off 13 shots and scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and was a nuisance on defense, picking up several loose balls. A good first outing for a freshman. Good, but not great.
In his second outing--in the consolation game with Tennessee Tech--James proved good at the end. Very good.
With the Crimson leading Tennessee Tech by two points late in the consolation game, James committed what at the time appeared to be two crucial turnovers.
The first turnover occurred with 2:32 remaining. The ball slipped out of his hands. The other happened with just 1:16 remaining and Harvard leading, 84-82.
When your freshman star turns the ball over twice with a minute to play, do you yank him? Not if you are Harvard Coach Peter Roby.
"That would have been the worst thing to do," Roby said.
And James rewarded Roby's faith in him. With both the shot clock and the game clock winding down, James drove left but missed a 10-ft. jumper. However, he stepped in, grabbed the rebound and put in a short jumper over three Golden Eagle players.
So the St. John's debacle is over and the Crimson is sitting at .500.
Can James joke about the St. John's game yet?
"I don't think St. John's is something to joke about," James said. "Maybe when I'm 65, I can laugh with my grandchildren about it."