In high school, Jonah Travis had two sayings that he would write on the bottoms of his basketball sneakers: “Relax” and “Go get it.”
Now, as a freshman forward on the No. 24 Harvard men’s basketball team, he is doing just that.
“The entire time I’ve been here, I’ve just told myself to keep calm and relax, because usually most of my mistakes happen when I get too hyped up since all my friends are here and there’s so many people watching,” Travis said. “I made a couple mistakes earlier, but then I just told myself to chill out and it’s really started to work for me after that.”
Indeed, things have started to work for Travis. On Sunday, the rookie grabbed 19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two steals—all career-highs—against Seattle University. Travis achieved this in just 19 minutes of playing time, and his performance was instrumental in the day’s 80-70 Crimson victory.
“His performance at Seattle was outstanding,” junior guard Brandyn Curry said. “It’s something that we needed, especially at that time, with that type of game.”
Travis’s play helped Harvard grab a lead early. Midway through the first period, the Redhawks’ Prince Obasi hit 3-pointers on two consecutive possessions to cut the Crimson’s lead to five, and Travis responded with an and-1 layup.
Seattle was never able to fully recover, and the margin never dropped below seven after that point.
“He’s one of the hardest working players I’ve ever played with and he’s a complete beast, especially on the boards for his size. He just outworks everybody,” Curry said.
Though Travis received offers from several reputable colleges, including Cornell, Northwestern, and Boise State, he was the first of the squad’s six freshmen to commit to Harvard in August 2010. Travis signed on right before his senior year at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis, whose “longstanding basketball tradition and incredible alumni base” he says helped to provide him with a great high school basketball experience.
Minnesota is also the home state of Hopkins High School point guard Siyani Chambers, who has verbally committed to the Crimson and will join the team next fall.
“Harvard had offered in the spring of my junior year and was always the front runner from that point on,” Travis said. “There were a couple of other schools that offered that I wanted to take a look at and so I waited until all my options were on the table.
“The recruiting process is a lot of fun but it’s really tiring, and so I wanted to get it over with,” he continued. “I knew what the smart choice was, so it wasn’t too hard to make the decision.”
Travis’s teammates and Harvard coach Tommy Amaker are certainly happy he chose to join the program, especially after witnessing the rookie’s performance this past week. Aside from shooting 6-8 from the field and making 7 out of 9 foul shots against the Redhawks, the freshman also notched four points and cleared 2-of-3 shots from the floor in Thursday’s 55-48 Crimson win over Vermont.
“I was really, really pleased with Jonah this week,” Amaker said. “A double-double and getting rookie of the week in the Ivy League—he earned it. How he played yesterday is exactly who he is and why we recruited him. He’s tough, he has a great grit and grime about him in a very positive, complimentary way.”
Most freshmen might be intimidated about joining a team that did not graduate any seniors last May and therefore already has its positions filled.
But Travis has taken a positive outlook and is ready to make a name for himself.
“I’m dealing with it just fine,” Travis said. “The good thing about not having graduated seniors, is that last season, we had juniors as captains, and so coming in this year, Oliver [McNally] and Keith [Wright] already know their leadership role because they’ve already been through it. It’s great having such veteran leaders, you get to watch them and watch their process and just kind of imitate them as much as possible.”
Even with the pressure cranking up now that Harvard has extended its undefeated record to 8-0 and cracked the top 25 in both the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the freshman continues to heed his words, “Relax” and “Go get it,” and enjoy his time on the team.
“It’s crazy, the buzz around campus, everyone congratulating you, even the people working at the cafeteria, it’s a lot of fun to be apart of Harvard basketball,” Travis said. “Of course it also puts a big target on your back, but I think we’re willing to step up to the challenge and face it.”
—Staff writer Marlee Melendy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.