BASKETBALL '06: Ready for Takeoff

The connection between Katie Rollins and Emily Tay—their coach calls them “attached at the hip” off the court—could lead to a breakout year for both stellar sophomores

It was a little over a year ago—two days after freshman move-in day—when sophomores Emily Tay and Katie Rollins met each other for the first time.

But after a few minutes alone with them, you would guess they have known each other for a lifetime.

At first glance, the two seem to be complete opposites. Tay, from Los Angeles, Calif., is the quieter of the two—the more reserved and collected one. Rollins hails from Augusta, Maine—a world apart from the sunshine and glitz of LA—but she is the more talkative one, usually the voice for both of them.

“It’s kind of like Penn and Teller,” Rollins says, referencing the famous pair of comedians. “That’s a good way to put it.”

But how can two different people be such great friends? Perhaps it’s that very difference that makes them such a great pair. Where one is lacking, the other makes up.

“I hate going anywhere by myself, and she thinks that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. She’s Miss Independent,” Rollins says. “She has a fear of speaking in class which I think is the biggest joke ever. I think her biggest fears are things I can help her with and my biggest fears are things she can help me with.”

Despite the differences, neither wastes the opportunity to do something fun together. No matter what crazy idea comes up, both are all for it. Whether it is late-night trips to Target, a quick stop at the ice cream shop, or buying coloring books when bored, nothing is too weird.

“One night, we bought six lobsters, brought them back to the dining hall, got butter, and melted it in the microwave,” says a smiling Tay. “It was awesome. I ate like four.”

“The first time I had lobster was at Katie’s house,” Tay adds. “Now I love it.”

Or they are learning something new about old experiences.

“You know, the McDonald’s in Maine have lobster,” Rollins says. “I never knew that was abnormal until she told me.”

Despite the different upbringings—and disparate happy meal offerings at McDonald’s—the duo has much in common, both on and off the court.

“We both have the kind personality that we like to share everything that goes on in our day with one another,” Rollins says, smiling. “If something exciting happens, she’s the first person I call to tell about it.”

The two are never too far from each other. They are roommates, teammates, and share three out of four classes together.

“It’s like they’re joined at the hip,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith says.

Rollins and Tay were equally united on the basketball court last season, emerging as the Crimson’s two outstanding rookie contributors a season ago. Tay, the flashy passer who thrives off penetration and a pull-up jumpshot, stymied slower defenses in the second half of the Ivy season. And beginning with a dominant opening performance against Dartmouth, Rollins emerged as one of the league’s finest post players in just her freshman season.

Rollins finished the season as the Crimson’s leading scorer, averaging 10.8 points per game despite missing the first 10 games of the season with an arm injury. The team’s sparkplug off the bench, Tay led Harvard in steals with 39 and ranked second in assists, dishing out 76 over the course of the year. She was also the team’s third leading scorer with a clip of 8.3 points per game.

Both Tay and Rollins were each named Ivy League Rookie of the Week twice last season. They each received recognition for their season-long efforts and were named to the All-Rookie Team for the Ivy League.

Individually, Rollins and Tay had their respective standout performances last season, but a breakout performance for the pair of them showed the Ivy League what the Crimson has in store for the next three seasons.

In a late season game against Columbia, Tay and Rollins turned in a record night when they led the Crimson from a halftime deficit to an 86-71 road victory over the Lions. Tay took charge of the perimeter with 24 points, three assists, and five steals, while Rollins was all efficiency with 20 points in just 16 minutes of play.

With one year of college experience under their belts, Rollins and Tay can look forward to more nights like that one this season. More minutes and more touches await the standout sophomores, as does increased responsibility in late-game situations. Moreover, Delaney-Smith knows the talent of her sophomore class will be indispensable to an Ivy title run this season.

“We’ve worked really hard over the summer and preseason because we want to show that we are a different team and we have made changes,” Rollins says. “I think we’ve stepped it up.”

Their closeness along with their talent will arguably provide the best point guard-low post relationship in the Ivy League. From late-night lobster runs to the pick-and-roll, Tay and Rollins have established a connection formidable to any and all Ivy League opponents.

“I know if I see an opening, I don’t have to mouth it, I just look at her and she’ll know,” Tay says.

And that’s something the coaches just can’t teach in practice.

—Staff writer Vincent R. Oletu can be reached at voletu@fas.harvard.edu.

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