At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, “Kill Season” officially began.
The Harvard men’s basketball team enters the 2011-12 campaign facing high expectations. It’s not just expected to win the Ivy League championship. It’s not just expected to make the NCAA tournament.
It’s expected to dominate the Ivy League. It’s expected to make noise in March. As its junior class is fond of saying, it’s expected to kill.
I guess those are the sorts of expectations a team receives when it returns its entire lineup and adds the conference’s top recruiting class to a team that was one game away from dancing last March.
But for a team with such lofty expectations, the Crimson enters this season with a number of question marks. How will junior forward Kyle Casey respond after undergoing offseason surgery? How will the Crimson’s seven freshmen fit into the rotation? What can be expected of junior point guard Brandyn Curry now that he is fully healthy?
Last Saturday, we started to learn some of the answers. In front of a healthy crowd at Lavietes Pavilion, Harvard kicked off its season with the unveiling of the team’s 2011 Ivy League championship banner and an intra-squad scrimmage.
Some questions were answered before tipoff.
Casey—who underwent foot surgery in the offseason to repair the broken right foot on which he played half his sophomore season—seemed to be back to his old ways.
Moments after emerging from the locker room, Casey threw down a ferocious 360-windmill, and then followed up with a “Honey Dip” slam, dunking and then hanging with his elbow in the rim. It doesn’t seem like the foot is bothering him too much.
And on a team best known for its dynamic frontcourt pairing of Casey and co-captain Keith Wright, junior point guard Brandyn Curry’s importance has sometimes been overlooked. But this year, that could change.
After struggling through knee problems his first two seasons, Curry enters the upcoming campaign fully healthy for the first time in his collegiate career. On Saturday, the difference was noticeable. Defenders were unable to stay in front of the lefty point guard, as he cruised to 13 points in the 20-minute scrimmage.
Curry also showed off his healthy knees during layup lines. After rarely dunking during his first two seasons, Curry consistently threw it down.
“I feel like physically I’m on a whole new level than I was last year,” said Curry, an All-Ivy Second Team selection last season who averaged 9.3 points and a league-best 5.9 assists per game. “I feel faster, stronger, and I’m in better shape. I’m not hurting every day.”
Curry will get plenty of time to rest his knees thanks to Tommy Amaker’s fourth recruiting class, considered to be among the nation’s best for a program outside a Power Six conference. Rookies Keynatta Smith and Wesley Saunders—rated 90 and 89 by ESPN, respectively—are thought to be the Crimson’s top freshmen. But how the pair will be used—and whether they see the floor—remains to be seen.
Smith (6’8”, 260 lbs) appears to be strikingly similar to a young Keith Wright (6’8”, 240 lbs). Both are most comfortable with their backs to the basket and score using an array of low-post moves rather than overwhelming opponents with athleticism. But with Wright—the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year—slated to eat a chunk of the minutes at center, there might not be many left over for Smith.
Saunders faces a similar dilemma. A 6’5” wing with tremendous athleticism (he was the only one close to keeping up with Casey’s dunks), Saunders will have to compete with co-captain Oliver McNally, junior Christian Webster, and sophomore Laurent Rivard for playing time on the wing.
Instead, it seems that two lesser-known rookies may make the biggest impact on the court this year. Forwards Jonah Travis (6’6”) and Steve Moundou-Missi (6’7”) showed on Saturday that they can help address one of the Crimson’s biggest needs—defense and rebounding. While neither may be exceptionally tall, it seems their athleticism and aggressiveness on the glass should be an immediate help to the Crimson.
But while many questions were addressed on Saturday afternoon, one remains unanswered. What will be the song of the 2011-12 Harvard basketball campaign? Two seasons ago, it was Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna’s “Run This Town.” Last year, it was Yeezy’s “All of the Lights.” This year? Well, according to Curry, that won’t be decided for a few more weeks until Wale and Drake’s new albums have dropped.
I guess we’ll just have to wait to find the answers to some questions.
—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.