The Harvard men’s basketball team will return from its week-long trip to Italy with a perfect 4-0 record after defeating Paffoni Omegna, 81-62, Monday afternoon in Verbania.
But more exciting for Crimson fans than Harvard’s four routs over Italian club teams—the Crimson won by an average of 20.5 points per game—is that Harvard appeared to answer a number of key questions surrounding its 2012-13 squad.
With the graduation of Keith Wright ’12 and Oliver McNally ’12 in May, the Crimson entered the offseason with a number of holes to fill—namely Wright’s 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Sophomore wing Wes Saunders went off in Italy, leading the Crimson in scoring in three of four contests. After averaging 3.3 points in 13.9 minutes per game off the bench as a rookie, Saunders poured in a team-high 16.5 points per game over the week, including a 21-point, six-rebound, four-assist performance against Paffoni Omegna.
A highly-touted recruit out of Los Angeles, Saunders is making a strong case for his insertion into the Crimson’s starting lineup this coming November. While Saunders will have to beat out sharp-shooting wings Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard—who did not travel with the Crimson to Italy in order to attend training camp for the Canadian men’s national team—for the job, his strength as a perimeter defender should aid his cause.
While Saunders supplied the scoring, his classmate Kenyatta Smith may have the answer in the post. Also a highly-touted prospect out of high school, Smith failed to contribute in his rookie season, appearing in just eight contests and averaging 2.1 minutes per game.
But in Italy, Smith began to demonstrate why ESPN ranked him the No. 17 center in the high school class of 2011. Smith opened the trip with a team-high 10 rebounds in a 75-64 win over Rieti and then followed up two games later with 15 points in an 83-52 victory against Bassano Basket.
“Proud of the team for going 4-0,” co-captain Brandyn Curry tweeted. “Glad to see the sophomores really step up on this trip.”
While the Crimson may return to Cambridge with options for replacing Wright’s scoring and rebounding, it still remains to be seen how Harvard will handle the loss of McNally—a talented ball handler and decision maker.
Sophomore Alex Nesbitt handled backup point guard duties in Italy, but the Crimson hopes it will get something out of freshman guard Siyani Chambers. Chambers and the rest of the Harvard rookies were not allowed to travel abroad with their teammates but will begin working out with the upperclassmen in the coming weeks.