BASKETBALL '07: Then and Now

When Michigan comes to Harvard, Tommy Amaker will be facing the team that fired him, and the Crimson will have the chance to win one for its coach on ESPNU

What a difference a year can make.

Last November, the Harvard men’s basketball team traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the Big Ten’s Michigan Wolverines and then-coach Tommy Amaker. The Wolverines easily defeated the Crimson, 82-50.

This year, Michigan will head to Lavietes Pavilion on Dec. 1, and Amaker will still be on the sidelines. But this time, he’ll be manning Harvard’s bench—coaching against his former squad.

Amaker was fired from the Michigan post in March, after being unable to bring the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament in six seasons in charge. He had his successes, though, leading Michigan to two NIT Tournament title games and winning the championship in 2004.

But when Michigan comes to Lavietes, Amaker’s old friends will be his new enemies, as the coach and his new squad will have the challenge of knocking off one of college basketball’s most storied teams.

“We’re going to be ready to play,” junior guard Drew Housman says. “We definitely want to get some revenge from what happened last year, because that was bad. We’re going to be well prepared.”

The Wolverines boast an impressive number of NBA star alumni, including Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard of the famous “Fab Five.” Michigan has failed to enjoy similar success in recent years in the wake of booster scandals and NCAA sanctions, but the history of the program makes the game a must-see for Crimson fans.

“The greatest thing is that it’s a Big Ten [school] coming into our house,” junior forward Evan Harris says. “I can’t remember the last time that happened.”

Indeed, a program of Michigan’s quality has not visited Lavietes since 1990, when Duke blitzed past Harvard, 103-61.

This current matchup stems back to an agreement made between the two schools setting up a three-year, three-game series. This year marks the second game of that series, the only one scheduled to be played on the Crimson’s home floor. It is very unusual for Harvard to attract such big-name, Division I competition, let alone have a team of that quality travel to Cambridge.

“Just in terms of beating a Big Ten team, that would be great,” Housman says. “Not even looking at where [Amaker] was coaching last year or anything.”

But, the irony of the agreement was the firing of Amaker by Michigan, and his subsequent hiring at Harvard.

“Michigan’s obviously going to be a huge game for Coach Amaker,” sophomore guard Jeremy Lin says. “We’re going to try to come out there and play hard and get that win—just because he came from there.”

“I’m sure he’s not going to mention it, but it would be cool [to win one for Amaker],” Housman adds.

Adding to the excitement, the game will be nationally televised on ESPNU, the first of two games this season in which the Crimson will appear on the college sports programming network. Harvard’s Ivy battle with Princeton in early February will also be broadcast.

“It’s far down the road, but I’d be lying to you if I said that guys weren’t excited,” captain Brad Unger says. “Especially when ESPNU comes to Harvard—that’s a pretty big deal. It has to be the first time in Harvard history. For something like that to happen, everybody realizes that it’s a pretty big deal and a pretty cool thing.”

“We don’t want to go on national TV and get embarrassed,” Harris adds. “We want to come out and compete.”

Having seen both levels of competition first-hand, Amaker is able to make an accurate comparison between Big Ten and Ivy League play.

“There are not that many differences,” Amaker suggests. “There is a high level of competition, kids who love the game of basketball, and who give great effort to improve themselves. I love that about the players we’ve encountered here so far.”

Brown, picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League preseason media poll—one slot ahead of Harvard, travelled to Michigan last weekend. The Wolverines knocked off the Bears, 72-57.

The Michigan squad graduated its three leading scorers from last season, including big man Courtney Sims, who recently signed a 10-day contract with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

Michigan freshman guards Manny Harris and Kelvin Grady, both Amaker recruits, are expected to play big roles for the Wolverines this season.

“It’s probably a bigger deal for [Amaker] and those players,” Harris says. “It’s got to be hard to play against the coach that recruited you.”

With all of these side stories, the Dec. 1 matchup promises to be one of the most exciting of the season at Harvard. Amaker vs. former team. Harvard vs. big-time opponent. National television on ESPNU.

Lavietes Pavilion is where the excitement will be. Is that where you’ll be on Dec. 1?

—Staff writer Kevin C. Reyes can be reached at kreyes@fas.harvard.edu.

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