For the first time in eight years, a freshman has been named the men’s basketball Ivy League Player of the Week.
The honor was bestowed upon Harvard forward Kyle Casey, who averaged 23.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in the Crimson’s road sweep of Yale and Brown this past weekend—the team’s first Ivy weekend road sweep since the 1999-2000 season.
“I take it in stride,” the modest freshman said. “It’s definitely an honor. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my teammates for creating plays and finding me in open spots.”
Casey scored 20 points and had seven rebounds against the Bulldogs and followed that up with a 27-and-nine game against the Bears. They were his second and third 20-plus point games on the season, which puts him just one game behind co-captain Jeremy Lin for most on the team.
Casey was also named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week, the fourth time he’s received the accolade this season. Thus, it only seemed a matter of time before he would join the league’s elites in winning the conference’s highest weekly honor.
“He’s a stud,” said Lin, who has won the award three times this season himself. “He’s a freshman but he plays like a senior. He’s gotten a lot more comfortable since the beginning of the year. He’s just playing out of his mind right now and we’re lucky that he’s on our team.”
Casey’s rare combination of size (6’7) and athleticism (he has a 42 inch vertical leap) is part of the formula that has allowed the freshman to succeed at such a young age.
It was weekends like this one that head coach Tommy Amaker must have envisioned when he landed Casey, who many called Harvard’s biggest men’s basketball recruit in history. The forward reportedly had strong interest from major-conference schools such as Vanderbilt, Stanford, and Providence, but opted for Cambridge in the end. And Amaker couldn’t be happier about Casey’s decision to play for him.
“For a freshman to have the kind of weekend he’s had has been pretty darn special for us,” the coach said. “Without him I’m not sure that we’re in the position that we’re in right now.”
Most importantly, Casey seems to have hit his stride at just the right time. With three key Crimson frontcourt players—senior Doug Magnarelli and sophomores Keith Wright and Andrew Van Nest—down for the weekend with injury, Amaker needed somebody to step up. And Casey, ignoring the extra weight placed on his shoulders, took his place in the starting lineup and exceeded all expectations.
“I wouldn’t say [there was] extra pressure,” Casey said. “We were very limited this weekend in the frontcourt, and it was on our whole team to step out of their [usual] roles and fulfill the role the team needed to get the win.”
Casey, who is third in the Ancient Eight in field goal percentage at 59.2 percent, has been a consistent force in the paint all season. But perhaps most impressive has been his three-point shooting, which has greatly improved of late. This weekend, he was 6-9 from behind the arc.
“I’ve been working on my rhythm a little bit,” Casey said. “[But] I think the shots are just finding me. I’m a little more comfortable with the offense since the beginning of the season.”
Casey was also extremely successful from the charity stripe, where he was 15-17 this weekend. That included a 4-4 stretch in overtime at Yale, carrying his team to a win when Harvard had to use four freshmen and a sophomore in its lineup after Lin and others had fouled out.
In addition to knocking down his own free throws, Casey was also able to stay out of foul trouble when his team needed him most, something he had struggled with at times earlier in the year.
“I felt strongly that I needed to be on the floor,” he said. “Preparing to play defense before my guy got the ball and playing with the energy and awareness that my coach wanted definitely helped me stay out of trouble.”
Casey’s offensive prowess will make the entire team even better in the future, as it will cause opposing defenders to focus more on stopping him—thus allowing Lin, who is almost constantly double-teamed, to have more space to work with on the floor.
“There’s so much attention on Jeremy Lin and so Kyle is being the beneficiary of that and he’s been able to cash in,” Amaker said. “He gives it inside and out. Kyle is a pretty mature kid to be a freshman. I’m very pleased with his maturity level and [his] taking good shots and playing within the flow of our offense. It was there for him and he cashed in.”
Continued strong play from Casey could go a long way towards helping the Crimson earn its first ever Ivy League title this season.
And don’t be surprised if he keeps it up for another three years after that. Because in many ways, the forward is like an obsessive gambler—he just keeps cashing in.