Sound Off: Amaker Talks Big Men

Published by Dennis J. Zheng on November 30, 2010 at 3:11AM

In the modern era of sports, being a college coach carries with it the burden of constant media attention. Facing dozens of reporters at press conferences, head coaches have gotten savvier—they say what they need to and leave the rest up for speculation. Here at The Back Page, we’re happy to decode some of these media sessions, showing the average fan what we think coaches’ answers “really” mean. 

Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker was pleased but not overly enthusiastic after the Crimson’s victory over Colorado Sunday afternoon. Though the 82-66 blowout represented the program’s first-ever win against a Big 12 school, it is easy to tell that Harvard’s focus remains on the long season ahead and the numerous obstacles in the way of bringing to Cambridge another program “first”: an Ivy League championship. The coach broke down some of those potential stumbling blocks in the post-game media conference.

What Amaker said (after a reporter remarked that junior big man Keith Wright “may have played himself into a lottery pick today”): “Well, let’s not get carried away. Certainly, Keith has played well. I’m very pleased with his production. I wish we could get him to play a little bit better defense. He’s getting into foul trouble a little bit because of sloppy plays and not being in position. Usually if you’re out of position it’s going to probably lead to fouls—that’s been the case with Keith a little bit, but we have been very pleased with his production.”

What Amaker means: By no means stingy with praise for the co-captain, Amaker honed in one of the few potentially major chinks in Wright’s armor. Double teams have presented a relatively minor obstacle for him thus far this season, but if teams go hard at Wright on the offensive end, early fouls could keep him on the bench (as they did in the Nov. 20 Mercer game). After the loss of its starting center early in the season, the Buffaloes were in no shape to challenge the Crimson inside. Keeping Wright on the floor and out of foul trouble will be a key concern for Harvard as the year continues.

What Amaker said (when asked about the status of sophomore Kyle Casey): “He’s coming. Not nearly where we’d like for him to be, but it’s a process. We’re throwing him in there here and there, getting him some minutes and trying to work him back in slowly and surely. You can see: timing, rustiness...he fouled out, those kinds of things. But certainly we don’t win today without Kyle having some presence for us and getting us some confidence. When they went small, we had to go small to match with them and Kyle helped us do that.”

What Amaker means: After an impressive freshman campaign, the pressure has mounted for Casey to make an instant impact upon his return from a broken foot suffered in the preseason. But as Amaker readily admits, so far the forward has looked out of sorts, particularly on the offensive end. The current priority for Harvard appears to be adjusting Casey back into the squad over the long haul—with an eye towards league play beginning in late January—rather than relying on the wing to help navigate the rest of the team’s arduous non-conference schedule. His performance last year indicated that Casey’s potential (and importance) is sky-high, but Amaker’s expectations will undoubtedly remain modest for the time being.

What Amaker said: “I thought Andrew [Van Nest, a 6’11” junior] played very well. We picked up a lot of fouls I wish we wouldn’t have with Keith, Andrew, and Kyle. We played all our post guys—we played [freshman Ugo Okam], we played [sophomore Jeff Georgatos], and then Van Nest and Kyle. I think the rotation of those guys is going to be very helpful for the rest of our season. We’re going to need bodies to be able to go to and rely on for a number of different situations...I was pleased that we were able to have some production from our post players.”

What Amaker means: The squad’s weakness clearly lies in its front-court depth; with Casey still adjusting to being back out on the floor, Amaker lacks a consistent interior presence besides Wright. A serious concern at the beginning of the season, the development of the team’s remaining big men (as they simply learn to defend and rebound) is worth watching closely game by game. Okam and Georgatos are still finding their way around the court (they were non-factors Sunday afternoon), but the coach has stated repeatedly that he is holding the relatively senior Van Nest to a higher standard. Though he still appears far more comfortable on the perimeter, perhaps Van Nest’s emphatic dunk against the Buffaloes will awaken a grittier personal style that could allay Amaker’s worries and pay heavy dividends for the Crimson.