The beginning of last season seemed bleak with a plague of injuries and a resulting 0-11 start.
Fifteen games into the season the Harvard men’s basketball team was standing at 2-13, one of its worst records to start a season.
In late January, with first semester finals giving the team a break from the season, sophomore center Brian Cusworth publicly announced what seemed inevitable—despite his hopes to return and help the Crimson turn around its season, he declared he would not be able to come back to the court and would have to take the spring semester off.
This season, the seven-footer will finally make his return after a year and a half away from playing college ball and with a right foot that no longer suffers from a stress fracture of the navicular.
“Sitting on the sidelines was extremely frustrating for [Sullivan],” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan says. “Hopefully that will be a factor in driving himself this year.”
He took the spring semester off from school in order to train and recover from his injury, while also applying for a medical hardship waiver to be eligible to play with the Crimson for at least half of the 2006-2007 season.
“I had a hunger over the summer to come back and have an even bigger role,” Cusworth says. “It was just a freak thing—it was devastating, but watching every game made me look forward to this season even more.”
During the off-season, however, Cusworth’s future with the Crimson was uncertain for a brief moment. While at home training, Cusworth flirted with the possibility of not returning to the Crimson, and instead remaining in his hometown of St. Louis and playing for St. Louis University.
Ultimately, however, Harvard’s starting center decided to make his return to Cambridge and spent the rest of the extended summer working towards that end.
“This is where I belong,” Cusworth says. “I’m not going to SLU, and I’m glad I’m here.”
During the time off at home, Cusworth not only worked on getting back to playing condition, but also to improve both his physical conditioning and his game.
In addition to rigorous sessions in the gym that he said will make him bigger and stronger this season, Cusworth also played in the Anthony Bonner Pro-Am league.
As Cusworth describes it, the level of play in this league was high—including a number of professional and Division I players along with myriad up-and-coming Division II and III hopefuls.
Nevertheless, as Sullivan notes, Cusworth’s biggest achievement during his time off was keeping focused on playing basketball.
“He did not do anything extraordinarily unusual,” Sullivan says. “He took the year [off] and took it seriously—he got a little stronger. More importantly, he tried to stay around the game. Sometimes when you get put on leave like that its tough to stay around the game.”
Now that Cusworth has returned, the questions about the future automatically come to the fore, and both the second semester sophomore and his coach are not sure how his eligibility will play out in the long term.
As it stands now, Cusworth can possibly return to play for Harvard the fall or spring semester of the 2006-2007 year, but would have problems reclaiming eligibility for the entire season—which spans both semesters.
One option for Cusworth and the Crimson is that he take a semester off in order to remain enrolled at the college for the entire year, but as of right now, he is not worried about all the different scenarios for the future.
“If I’m only allowed to play one semester, so be it,” Cusworth says. “If there was a possibility, I would jump on it. I’m worrying about one step at a time.”
At present, he can look forward not only to starting for the first time in his collegiate career, but also finally playing alongside junior forward Matt Stehle—who garnered All-Ivy Honorable Mention status last season.
After two years where either one or the other has been hampered by injury, Cusworth looks to add the final piece to the puzzle and give Harvard one of the best front courts in the Ivy League.
“It made a difference not having [Cusworth] last year for sure,” Sullivan says. “You can see in practice, just the size of his body makes a difference. Central issue is staying in the game and not getting in trouble. Stehle led the Ivy League in blocks, but Cusworth might even be better.”
With two healthy feet, the giant man in the middle might just be the one to finally carry the Crimson over the hump.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.