Life of Brian: They Got Next...Practice

For football players, they sure do play like women.

Then again, that’s exactly what Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith asks out of them.

Making the most out of their time before spring practice starts, a handful of Crimson gridders have turned their pickup basketball skills into a strategic advantage for the Harvard women’s basketball team.

All winter long, juniors Adam Gordon, Brian Garcia and Matt Fratto and senior Rodney Thomas have been the Crimson’s special guests in practice, going head-to-head against Hana Peljto, Reka Cserny and the rest of the Ivy League champs. Junior Ben Cluff, who plays junior varsity hoops, is also a regular on this Dream Team of scout teams.

When the Crimson women learned their first-round opponent last night, these guys learned their personas for the next three days’ worth of practice. Starting this afternoon, they’ll be running the Kansas State offense and simulating the defense. One enterprising impersonator will even be called upon to role-play the Wildcats’ 6’4 monster center, Nicole Ohlde (but goodie—she’s a Naismith Player of the Year finalist).

The scout team was born a year ago as the Crimson prepped for its first-round opponent in last season’s tournament, North Carolina. The footballers, known as fixtures at the MAC’s recreational courts, were asked to come in for a scrimmage. The Harvard coaching staff liked what it saw and invited them back on an informal basis at the start of this season.

Throughout the year, junior linebacker Dante Balestracci has been known to play periodically, as has senior superstar Carl Morris—at least until his schedule became cluttered with NFL combines and such.

“Carl was great. He used to play all the time but then people started getting really nervous that he’d get hurt,” laughs junior forward Tricia Tubridy. “He kind of had more important things to do than play with us now.”

Earlier this year, when the Crimson started struggling against top-25 opponents, the scout team became a more regular part of Harvard’s practices.

“After the blowouts, we said, ‘Hey, why don’t we bring them in more?,’” Tubridy says. “When we play bigger, more athletic teams, the guys help us get ready for how they’ll defend us—what passes we can get away with and what we can’t.”

Harvard assistant coach Stacey Connors is often in charge of assigning roles, usually five or ten minutes before practice. Based on the scouting report for that week’s opponent, the guys will dribble left-handed or right-handed, play man-to-man or zone, shoot from outside or feed the post, play up-tempo or slow it down.

“They pick up the offenses so quickly,” Tubridy says. “They’re really fundamentally sound.”

But, Tubridy adds, there are some ground rules. Dunking and gratuitous shot-blocking are highly discouraged.

“We don’t block shots into the wall or anything,” Cluff says. “We don’t try to hurt anybody. We’re down there to help out and do what’s best for the team.”

How much have they helped? The guys aren’t about to take any of the credit for the Crimson’s spotless 14-0 Ivy record, but suffice it to say that at 6’2, 245 lbs., Garcia can play a mean Katharine Hanks.

In most cases, the scout team runs the opposition’s plays better than the opposition. Essentially, they out-Brown Brown.