At the end of his fourth season at the helm of the Harvard men’s basketball team, Tommy Amaker had accomplished a feat no other Crimson coach had managed to do: lead Harvard to an Ivy League title.
One year later, the accolades continued to roll in. Harvard won a program-best 26 games in 2011-12 on the way to its second straight Ancient Eight Crown—the team’s first solo championship.
And with that came the end of a 66-year NCAA tournament drought. Amaker and the Crimson journeyed to Albuquerque, N.M., and subsequently fell to SEC champs Vanderbilt in the first round.
Despite the loss, history continues to be made with Amaker leading the charge.
“He’s a great coach because he’s a great leader,” says junior point guard Brandyn Curry. “He is definitely by far one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen, just in terms of being able to control the team and being able to admit when he’s wrong…. He listens to us when we have something to say. His office is always open.”
Since the former Duke All-American arrived on the scene in 2007, Harvard has steadily improved. From a 3-11 effort in conference play in 2007-08 the Crimson became the clear favorite to win the 2011-12 Ivy title.
Harvard led the league in scoring defense, with opponents averaging 55.6 points per game—a full 6.5 points fewer than any other Ivy team. And according to Crimson players, Amaker is a big reason for Harvard’s defensive prowess.
“Coach always preaches, ‘defense, defense, defense,’” junior wing Christian Webster says. “That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on. Coach does a good job of making us take pride in getting stops.”
Harvard won the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis tournament to kick off the season, taking down Utah, then-No. 22 Florida State, and Central Florida in the process.
The Crimson saw time in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll rankings, coming in as high as No. 21. And although it took until the last game of Ivy play—a Tuesday-night matchup between Princeton and then-championship hopeful Penn—Harvard made good on early predictions to capture its second straight league crown.
“[Amaker] knows the game of basketball,” Curry says. “Not only did he play at Duke, he’s one of the best college point guards there ever was, so he’s been there, he’s done that at a very high level…. Everybody has really embraced his vision and embraced his style of play.”
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.