Life of Brian: M. Hoops Seniors Can't Come Home Again

Whitney H. Welshimer

Seniors are honored in a ceremony before the men's basketball game.

Someone forgot to tell senior center Tim Coleman Saturday’s game against Columbia didn’t mean anything.

While Penn battled Yale in Philadelphia with first place in the Ivies at stake, the Harvard men’s basketball team was fighting for sole possession of fourth place, if that can even be considered something you fight for.

For Coleman, apparently, it was. When an errant Harvard pass was deflected into the backcourt with five minutes to play and the game very much in doubt, Coleman outran every player on the floor to the loose ball. Diving to the floor like a linebacker pouncing on a fumble, he gathered it up and worked it to a teammate. A split-second later, as Pat Harvey’s three attempt banged off the rim, Coleman had already raced back underneath the hoop to secure an offensive rebound—one of his 21 on the weekend—keeping the possession alive.

Then, with 1:45 left and the game tied, Coleman hit a crucial jumper, putting the Crimson ahead for good, 56-54.

In his final home weekend, Coleman played arguably his best two games of the year in a row. He had a double-double on Friday and nearly another one Saturday, finishing with 10 points and nine boards.

With his parents in attendance, Coleman was back to being the inside force he was two years ago when Dan Clemente ’01 went down with an eye injury.

Harvard was supposed to be dead in the water without Clemente that season. Coleman, apparently, didn’t get the memo. While Harvard went into crisis mode—“our backs were against the wall,” said Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan—Coleman played like a man possessed.

He led the team in scoring and rebounding for parts of that midseason stretch, lifting Harvard to a pair of upsets over a then-formidable Dartmouth squad. He finished the year as Harvard’s most improved player, helping to save what appeared to be a lost season.

Adversity struck hard when Coleman was forced to sit out all of last year for academic reasons. But someone probably forgot to tell Coleman how hard it would be to come back this year, how challenging it might be to be accepted by his teammates again.

In fact, someone definitely forgot, because Coleman entered this season in the best shape of his career, ready to run the floor in an offense committed to running in fifth gear.

One of the league’s better frontcourt players, he’ll likely finish the season third in rebounding.

“Sometimes [players] are away from Harvard for a year and they lose interest in extracurriculars,” Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said. “Tim came back with a renewed sense of purpose. He felt strongly about helping the club this year and he really did a fine job. I’m really proud of him.”

In a week, someone will have to tell Coleman his Harvard career has ended. Coleman will probably hope they forget.

Drew Gellert will probably have to be dragged out of Lavietes kicking and screaming after Harvard finishes its season next weekend.

The Harvard captain is a man after Bill Cleary’s own heart. Cleary, Harvard’s former athletic director and lover of all things amateur athletics, hated specialization among young athletes. During his recruiting days as Harvard hockey coach, Cleary was famous for cherishing the multisport stars and the all-around athletes.

Gellert was a throwback in that regard. In high school, he took up football in his senior season on a whim, because a buddy encouraged him to come out for the team. In that one season, he broke a 26-year old interceptions record and, as a receiver, caught 90 balls, the most of anyone in state history since 1970.

Gellert never got the chance to play football at Harvard, but he did catch a touchdown pass in a Harvard uniform once.

With 30 seconds left in a close contest at Dartmouth last year, Clemente lined up to make an inbounds pass under Harvard’s hoop, staring down a frantic full-court press applied by the Big Green.

Suddenly, there was Gellert, breaking free down the floor, splitting the defense, hauling in a baseball pass from Clemente. He converted the breakaway layup, giving Harvard a 57-53 lead and, eventually, the win.

Three years ago, Gellert was the heir apparent at point guard when Harvard great Tim Hill ’99 graduated. That was before a flashy playmaker and soon-to-be all-time Ivy League assist leader from Seattle showed up on the scene. Even with Elliott Prasse-Freeman’s arrival in Cambridge in the fall of 1999, Gellert likely still would have begun that season as the point guard had he not gone down with a separated shoulder in the preseason.

Gellert could have missed a large chunk of the season with that injury. He didn't miss a game.

From then on, though, he was mainly a small forward.

The reshuffling was never a problem for Gellert, who was moved around the floor like a chess piece throughout his career, depending on which big-name scorer was coming to town that weekend.

Flinder Boyd. Earl Hunt. Wallace Prather. Gellert got the better of all of them.

The only thing tougher than beating Gellert off the dribble was getting him to open up at a postgame press conference.

But lest anyone pigeonhole him strictly as one of those speak-softly-and-lead-by-example types, along came last week’s game at Penn. At the Palestra, the team benches are actually the first row of the bleachers, and press row is actually the second row, placing the media squarely behind the players.

For anyone who cared to notice, the other side of Drew Gellert—the side his teammates knew was on full display during each and every timeout. While Sullivan consulted with his assistants and diagrammed the next play, Gellert was shouting at the top of his lungs to his huddled teammates, a towel clenched furiously in his fist.

Sitting one row back, it was impossible to make out any of his words above the din of the Penn band and the loudmouths hurling taunts. But it’s safe to assume Gellert’s teammates heard him loud and clear. That, it seems, was all he ever intended.

As he was introduced with his parents during a pregame ceremony Saturday night, it was Gellert—the man who thrived for so long in the shadow of his friend and former captain, Clemente—who was praised for setting the standard by which future captains of Harvard basketball would be judged.

“Being a captain here in our program is a big deal,” Sullivan said Saturday. “We don’t have co-captains, we have captains.

“Drew has endeared himself to his teammates as well as any captain I’ve had.”

During postgame interviews with Sullivan, Gellert was never the first person asked about, or even the second. The opening questions were and still are usually devoted to figuring out how Harvey managed to score 20 despite being double-teamed yet again.

Invariably, though, someone would turn to Gellert’s line, always indicative of a fine all-around effort, usually something to the tune of 7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals.

On one particular day last November, Gellert had hustled after a rebound off his own missed free throw, saved it from going out of bounds and threw it into the hands of Harvey, who drained the go-ahead three.

After the press hordes had given Harvey his due for hitting the game-winning shot, an Associated Press writer remembered Gellert, almost as an afterthought, and asked Sullivan, “Hey, how about Drew’s play?”

Sullivan had recited the Drew-does-all-the-little-things speech to the press countless times before. This time, he just nodded and flashed a knowing smile.

“He’s the best, isn’t he?”