Guard Drew Housman drives to the hoop in Harvard’s exhibition win over Puerto Rico-Mayaguez last Saturday. Housman will start the year at the point.
Boasting the league’s top two returning scorers, the offensive attack of the Harvard men’s basketball team seems primed to explode at the outset of the 2005-06 season.
But as settled as the imposing frontcourt appears due to league Player of the Year candidates Matt Stehle and Brian Cusworth, the point guard situation is just as unclear. In a league where guard play is often the determining factor, two freshmen and a converted forward are prepping to guide Harvard towards the first Ivy title in school history.
“It’s a perimeter driven league, and we’re very untested at the perimeter,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan says. “[Point guard’s] been a position that’s been nagging us for two years now. We need to get back, one way or the other, to more solid point guard play.”
With the graduation of last year’s starting point guard David Giovacchini and the departure of highly touted guard Tyler Klunick, who wanted to focus on academics, Harvard enters the season without a clear answer as to who will run the offense. Freshman recruits Drew Housman and Erik Groszyk were brought in to compete for the open spot in the backcourt alongside junior shooting guard Jim Goffredo. The insurance policy is senior swingman Mike Beal, who appears past a nagging knee injury that limited his mobility in previous seasons.
“Mike has proven to be more than adequate at point guard for us, but it’s not his natural position,” Sullivan says. “We recruited Mike to be a small forward, rebound, slash [to the hoop].”
If either Housman or Groszyk can step into the starting role and overcome the transition from high school to the college game, Beal would be freed to return to his more natural small forward position.
“I’ve become really comfortable with [playing the point] and looking for other people, but I think one of the things that we need is to have that other person crashing the boards to help [Stehle and Cusworth],” Beal says. “That’s something I’d like to get back to, in terms of really being able to swing and attack the hoop.”
Whether Beal can become entrenched on the wing, however, is still to be determined. Housman started at point guard in Harvard’s sole exhibition game last Saturday and played a team-high 22 minutes, compiling a 6-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio. The rookie from Calabasas, Calif. is the frontrunner to begin the year as the team’s floor general, despite Sullivan’s reluctance to entrust first year players with crucial duties.
“At this point, [the freshmen] are just learning how to compete—it’s a big difference from high school in terms of the maturity that’s necessary,” Sullivan says. “Even a guy like [Elliott] Prasse-Freeman [’03], who became the all-time Ivy assist [leader], he didn’t start here right away.”
Housman and Groszyk will attempt to assume the mantle of superior point guard play established by Tim Hill ’99 (590 career assists, second most in school history) and Prasse-Freeman ’03 (705, first). In the past two seasons, Harvard has over 300 more turnovers than assists, a 0.66:1 ratio that ranks last in the Ivy League. To protect the basketball, the young guards must learn how to wait for plays to develop.
“It’s something you’ve got to adjust to,” Groszyk says. “You’re so used to playing in high school [with] free reign on the court. Here it’s not that way, and you have to be much more under control.”
Beal has been helping both players learn that patience is the most important of virtues for a player charged with directing an offense.
“The main thing I’ve been trying to work on is with Eric and Drew, in terms of trying to control the offense, to slow it down,” Beal says. “A lot of times when you feel pressure you want to go too fast.”
The team is counting on one of the freshmen being able to learn those lessons and grow into the job. A revolving door at the point guard position, more so than other spots on the floor, could be a major hindrance to offensive execution.
“I just hope one of them is going to step up and be able to play the point for us,” Goffredo says. “I’m sure coach by the end of the year would like to have one point guard in that spot, [to] take the pressure off of not knowing who’s going to be playing when.”
Solid point guard play would in turn ease the pressure on the team’s interior strength. Although the multiple double teams that opposing defenses are sure to throw at Stehle and Cusworth will lead to open looks for Goffredo, Beal, and senior guard Zach Martin, the sole job of the point men will be to feed the ball in to the post, the lifeblood of this year’s team.
“We’re going to have to be able to get the ball in to those guys, and make sure that teams play us honest to give them the room to operate,” Groszyk says.
If this year’s point guards can simply keep defenses honest, then the Harvard offense could carry the Crimson to a plateau it has never before reached.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.