Amaker Reeling in Star Recruits for '08-'09

Talented high school seniors commit to Harvard for next season

TOMMY'S BOYS
Hillary W. Berkowitz

In his first year as head coach of the men’s basketball team, Tommy Amaker is already looking ahead to the future. Four nationally-ranked recruits have verbally committed to playing for the Crimson next season.

First, Harvard brought in the big name basketball coach.

Now, that coach, Tommy Amaker, is bringing in the big-name players.

“Big-name players” may be a stretch for now, but Amaker, according to reports from rivals.com and ESPN.com, has already received commitments from four high-caliber basketball recruits to play for the Crimson starting with the 2008-2009 season.

NCAA rules prevent Amaker from discussing recruits by name, but the coach let on that things are going well on the recruiting trail as he lures recruits by pitching Harvard’s high academic prestige.

“I can’t speak specifically about prospects, but what we’re trying to do, obviously we want to attract outstanding players who are outstanding students,” Amaker said. “And there are kids around the country that we have identified that are showing interest in Harvard. In a lot of ways, this is a chance of a lifetime, and that’s exactly what we’re presenting—this education and tradition. We’re hopeful that the kids we’re targeting are taking that in stride. So far, we’re very pleased with the results.”

Expected to join the team are center Frank Ben-Eze from Arlington, VA., shooting guard Max Kenyi from Silver Spring, MD., point guard Oliver McNally from Ross, CA., and power forward Peter Boehm from Winnetka, IL. Ben-Eze and Kenyi are both ranked as three-star prospects by rivals.com, while McNally and Boehm are each two-star prospects.

“As a beginning coach with a new coach, you realize that your current players are your most important—your own current guys, you’re recruiting to a certain degree,” Amaker said. “But you’re also looking toward the future, each recruiting class can take on a life of its own. The first one is always significant, we’re hoping it can give us some momentum and a little credibility as we start our journey here in the Ivy League.”

Ben-Eze might be Harvard’s biggest recruit ever. The 6-foot-10, 230 pound native of Nigeria reportedly picked the Crimson over Marquette, Virginia, and Virginia Tech—three teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year. ESPN.com ranks him as the 66th-best player in the class of 2008, and according to that website, is a skilled shooter, an excellent offensive rebounder, athletic inside scorer, and ferocious shot blocker.

Kenyi hails from Gonzaga High School in Washington D.C., where former Harvard forward Kenyon Churchwell played before arriving in Cambridge. According to rivals.com, Kenyi turned down the same three schools as Ben-Eze, as well as Vanderbilt and George Mason, to play for the Crimson. He is rated as the 87th-best shooting guard in his class by ESPN.com and is lauded for his excellent shooting ability.

That’s very good news for the Crimson, which ranked next to last in the league last season in three-point field goals made and three-point field goal percentage.

Harvard’s long-range shooting should improve even more with the addition of McNally, who can play both guard positions. rivals.com says the Californian picked Harvard over more established basketball programs like Penn, Stanford, and Gonzaga. ESPN.com ranks him as the 103rd-best shooting guard in the class of 2008.

“It’s showing a new commitment, not only by him but by the school and the athletics,” junior forward Evan Harris said. “To go out and target these kids, and not only targeting them but convincing them to come, it speaks volumes to not only Amaker’s commitment but that of the school.”

Recruiting success is nothing new to Amaker. He constantly brought in high-ranking high school ballers to Michigan—his 2004 class contained three four-star prospects.

But it’s a new phenomenon in Cambridge. In the past six classes, only two players had stars—former captain Jim Goffredo ’07 and junior guard Drew Housman were each two-star prospects.

Amaker’s pitch to high schoolers is changing that. In addition to the four committed players, two-star forward prospects Dario Hunt of Goldsboro, NC and Andrew Van Nest of Northfield, MA are considering suiting up for the Crimson next year.

“It’s as big as it gets in terms of higher eduction; there is none bigger than Havard,” Amaker said. “The kids we’ve identified have been interested in that. Will we get them all? No, but I think we’ll have an opportunity to pique their interest—to be part of the grand floor in something that will be special someday.”

It’s worth noting that recruiting high-ranking prospects might not be the best way of judging future performance. Neither of the last two Ivy Rookies of the Year, Adam Gore and Ryan Wittman from Cornell, received any stars. And while two players from Penn’s four-player 2003 class were three-star recruits, the other two, who combined for zero stars, were Mark Zoller and Ibrahim Jaaber, the two best players in the league last season.

But for Harvard fans who have seen their team come up short against the better teams in the league on too many occasions, the influx of such talent surely indicates Amaker has the program on the right path: towards the team’s first ever Ivy League championship.

—Staff writer Ted Kirby can be reached at tjkirby@fas.harvard.edu.

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