The Best Days May Be Ahead For Harvard Basketball

Bert's Eye View

Bryce Spots
Freshman guard Bryce Aiken drives in Harvard’s Mar. 4 loss against Penn. Aiken will have an increased load next year due to the departure of senior guard Siyani Chambers as the Crimson hope for the best.

Gut wrenching. A heartbreaker. Devastating.

These were the words Harvard coach Tommy Amaker used to describe his team’s early exit from the inaugural Ivy League conference tournament almost two weeks ago when third-seeded Yale defeated second-seeded Harvard, 73-71.

For the fifth time in Ivy play, the Crimson fell in the final moments of the game. But remember, Harvard had only five losses against Ancient Eight opponents (four in the regular season, and the Ivy Tournament first round loss). In those five losses, the margin of defeat was a combined total of 13 points.

For comparison, in the second half of conference play, every Ivy team, except Harvard, lost to Princeton by more than 13 points in just one game.

But for the Crimson, every loss came down to the waning plays—in three of those games, it came down to the final six seconds.

The team’s largest gap in an Ivy loss was four points to the Tigers in the last weekend of regular season play, and two points of the final difference came on Princeton free throws as the Crimson tried to extend the game when it fell behind by two on an Amir Bell floater.

After each of these losses, myself and my fellow Crimson reporters were tasked with interviewing coach Amaker and an array of players, trying to dissect what had just happened on the court.

In no circumstance was this more challenging than the Ivy Tournament, as seniors Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan had to discuss the loss to the Bulldogs just moments after their collegiate basketball careers had ended.

But despite the pain of the season ending in such devastating fashion, neither hesitated to speak of the future of Harvard basketball. While the tandem and their fellow classmates are some of the last remaining ties to the Crimson’s peak—being the only players on the roster for Harvard’s NCAA Tournament victories against New Mexico and Cincinnati—the program is taking steps forward to be in contention for March Madness for years to come.

“Time obviously flies and it’s been a privilege to play for coach Amaker and be a student-athlete at Harvard University and compete in the Ivy League,” Edosomwan said. “It’s such a tough league. I’m really proud of this program and the direction it’s going.”

This isn’t to minimize the losses of Chambers and Edosomwan. While both have made significant impacts on the court, their leadership has been something that Amaker has pointed to time and time again before every big game.

The story of the 2016-2017 season was Harvard’s revered freshman class—a top-ten recruiting class, an eventual Ivy League Rookie of the Year in guard Bryce Aiken, and an finalized starting roster that included four rookies and Chambers. With the 10th youngest team in the NCAA according to KenPom ratings, however, Amaker relied on his veterans to be vocal on and off the court to guide the underclassmen through the transition to college basketball.

But, for the first time since the 2014-2015 season, Amaker won’t have the significant hurdle next season of working with a core of brand new players. The Crimson currently has three recruits set to join the squad in 2017, but it returns 73 percent of its points and 87 percent of its minutes from this season.

Thirteen of its 20 players on the current roster are freshmen and sophomores.

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