Questions Abound for Men's Basketball

Pardon the Collaboration

The shocking withdrawal of  Kyle Casey and the expected departure of Brandyn Curry from school has focused much of the media attention on the co-captains of the Harvard men’s basketball team. So far, much less ink has been spilled on those players who still remain on the Crimson roster

The foundation of the 2011-12 team that won the Ivy League championship and made Harvard’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946 is gone. Last year’s co-captains, Keith Wright ’12 and Oliver McNally ’12, graduated alongside classmate Andrew Van Nest ’12. Sharpshooter Corbin Miller departed for a two-year Mormon mission, and highly touted recruit Max Hooper transferred to Saint John’s. The Crimson expected Harvard-Westlake’s Zena Edosomwan, the highest-rated recruit ever to commit to an Ivy League school, to offset some of this attrition, but after failing to meet Harvard’s Academic Index requirements, Edosomwan returned for one more year of high school and plans to join the Class of 2017.

Assuming, as expected, Curry leaves as well as Casey, Harvard will find itself relying on a largely untested group to retain its place at the top of the conference—as it stands now, the team will return just two players who averaged over 15 minutes per game last season. What rotation will  the Crimson rely on in its bid to defend its Ivy crown and return to the NCAA Tournament?

Despite the loss of Casey, perhaps the frontrunner for Ivy League Player of the Year, the situation at forward is far from desperate. Sophomores Steve Moundou-Missi and Jonah Travis impressed in stints off the bench last year and Kenyatta Smith—the highest rated prospect of the bunch—showed signs of delivering on his promise of becoming a dominant force down low during the team’s summer trip to Italy. With Smith the tallest of the bunch at 6’8”, the group may be undersized from a national perspective, but this is nothing new for Harvard; last year’s duo of Wright and Casey were able to control play in the paint in the Ivy League, though neither of them stood above that height. Junior seven-footer Ugo Okam may see an increased role, while freshman Agunwa Okolie might also play significant minutes.

The situation at wing is largely unchanged. Senior Christian Webster and junior Laurent Rivard should remain threats from the perimeter. Sophomore Wes Saunders will play a slashing role, taking advantage of his superior athletic ability to get to the basket. The majority of the scoring load should fall on the shoulders of this trio.

Harvard will feel the effects of the cheating scandal most acutely at guard. Though his teammates may have had superior scoring numbers, Curry was the pilot that steered the Crimson offense; Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker routinely referred to him as the most important player on the team. The expected loss of Curry is exacerbated by the dearth of proven options at point guard. Of the returning players, Saunders may be the only one seeing time at the point, but he is more of a natural wing and struggled last season with handling the ball. This leaves the primary responsibility of filling Curry’s shoes to freshman Siyani Chambers and sophomore Alex Nesbitt, who only played three minutes all of last season. Teammates have praised Nesbitt’s skill set, but his size remains an issue, and he has yet to play in a meaningful game.

Chambers may end up starting, with Saunders at the two-guard. Chambers, a Minnesota native, led his high school team to a 4A state basketball championship in 2010 and 2011 but has never experienced Division I basketball.

With this short-handed roster, the likelihood that the Crimson repeats as Ivy League champs has dropped drastically. Originally the heavy favorites, Harvard now has to contend with an always dangerous Princeton team that returns its star player Ian Hummer and a much-improved Columbia squad.

A curious implication of this situation is the prospect of the Crimson’s 2013-14 roster. Should Casey and Curry both return to Harvard following their leaves of absence, they would rejoin all of the projected contributors from this year’s team, except Webster. Also bolstering next year’s team will be one of the strongest recruiting classes in the Crimson’s history, led by Edosomwan. Coupled with the development of the young players on this year’s team, the collection of talent potentially amassing in Cambridge could outclass any of the achievements of the teams in recent years, including the NCAA Tournament berth of last season.

The upcoming season will certainly be a tough one to manage. Amaker and his staff have their work cut out for them as they try to cope with a highly altered personnel group after the fallout of Tuesday’s revelations.

—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at akoenig@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at mooney@college.harvard.edu.

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