Monday night saw the end of yet another men’s college basketball season that didn’t include Harvard in its postseason tournaments. For those of you keeping score at home, it’s now been 63 years since the Crimson played in the Big Dance, when coach Floyd Stahl led Harvard into the eight-team tournament in 1946, only to lose to Ohio State and NYU.
As we settle in for the long, cold Cambridge spring, the only real consolation is that an end may be in sight. The Crimson had wins over two NCAA Tournament teams this year—Cornell and Boston College—and did it all despite major injury issues that limited senior Evan Harris, juniors Pat Magnarelli and Doug Miller, and freshmen Max Kenyi and Andrew Van Nest.
Star junior Jeremy Lin, himself less than 100 percent for quite a few games this year, will be back, as will a talented cast of freshman contributors in Keith Wright, Peter Boehm, and Oliver McNally. Of course, Cornell will be back as well, returning a boatload of stars in Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, and Chris Wroblewski. But Harvard has already shown it has the talent to down the Big Red.
This talent looks to be augmented by probably the most exciting part of the future of Harvard basketball—the incoming freshman class.
Like last year, coach Tommy Amaker has signed a star-studded lineup of high schoolers as he looks to remake the Crimson program. Local product Kyle Casey got interest from high-level schools, including Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Providence, and has impressive hops (if you haven’t seen it, Google “Kyle Casey dunk” and click the first link to watch him win a dunk contest). Point guard Brandyn Curry, rated the #40 point guard in America by Scouts Inc., could be the ballhandler of the future for Harvard, while three other highly-touted recruits—Jeff Georgatos, Christian Webster, and Dee Giger—have also announced their plans to relocate to Cambridge.
But while we await their arrival and the help they should bring to the long-moribund men’s basketball program, this year’s Harvard season was noticeably lacking in something that last year—and this year’s NCAA tournament—was not: drama.
Last year, the New York Times reported that Harvard was lowering academic standards to unacceptable levels for student athletes and potentially violating NCAA rules in its recruiting, accusing Amaker of improper contact with one recruit in a grocery store and an assistant coach of recruiting a player prior to being officially hired by the school. These claims, minor violations if they had been true, were rejected by the Ivy League after an investigation.
Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported on its website that a former student manager at the University of Connecticut and a registered agent, Josh Nochimson, had potentially violated numerous NCAA rules due to his contact with Huskies recruit Nate Miles.
Nochimson provided food, transportation, and representation for the recruit, who eventually signed with UConn before violating a restraining order and being kicked out of school.
Obviously, the presence of agents in the recruiting process is against NCAA rules, and Nochimson should have been excluded from the process from the beginning since he was a former UConn manager.
UConn’s denials seem unconvincing in light of the fact that Huskies coaches had some 1,565 different phone calls or texts with Nochimson during and after Miles’ recruitment. ESPN later reported that Nochimson may have helped shepherd another UConn recruit, Ater Majok, on his way to Storrs.
Two lessons should be obvious from this episode for Harvard fans. First and foremost, there is a need to revamp the college recruiting process in a way that makes the NCAA a legitimate governor or owner of the process. Right now, the byzantine code that governs recruiting is virtually impossible to understand, allowing coaches both good and bad to take shelter with excuses about the clarity or application of NCAA guidelines. In the end, there is no question that the recruiting process needs to be revamped.
Second, and more important, is the importance of perspective as Harvard revamps its own basketball image. Reactions on campus last year to the New York Times coverage of Amaker’s recruiting were mixed, but the bottom line is that the allegations against Amaker and his staff were the smallest of small potatoes in NCAA recruiting violations, even if they had proven to be true. Just as claims about Harvard’s “lowering of academic standards” for basketball are overblown—the Crimson’s Academic Index for men’s basketball during Frank Sullivan’s tenure was well above the Ivy average, and regressing to the Ivy mean hardly constitutes a sacrifice of academic principles—concerns about Amaker’s recruiting are unjustified. Other Ivy schools should be concerned about his recruiting, but only to the extent that it threatens to alter the long-standing balance of power in Ancient Eight hoops.
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.