Crimson Reloads Again

Ugo a Go Go
Robert L. Ruffins

Rookie big man Ugo Okam, a native of Nigeria, could be a force in the Ivy League for years to come.

Widely praised for his recruiting prowess, Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker swung for the fences last fall in compiling his third recruiting class at the helm of the Crimson.

The former Seton Hall and Michigan coach largely struck out, as Amaker and his staff lost multiple top-100 prospects to high-major institutions like Stanford and Vanderbilt.

But true to his reputation, Amaker recovered in the winter and managed to bring in a haul that once again stands among the best in the Ivy League.

Composed of five recruits hailing from three different nations, Harvard’s class of 2014 appears poised to have the same sort of impact that the squad’s current sophomores made last season during their first year in Cambridge.

The most intriguing of the Crimson newcomers is seven-footer Ugo Okam, a 245-pound center who graduated from Florida’s Montverde Academy.

His presence provides Amaker with a much-needed boost in the team’s frontcourt—which will begin the season with only three healthy returnees—as well as an asset to develop over the long term.

Having played basketball only since his arrival in the United States from Nigeria about five years ago, Okam has been steadily improving in all facets of the sport—especially after joining Harvard.

“He’s made tremendous strides here, just since he’s stepped on campus until now,” junior co-captain Keith Wright says of the freshman. “It’s just amazing the progression he’s made. He’s more of a defensive monster. He blocks everything around the rim.”

Okam, who turned down offers from Vanderbilt, Penn, and Loyola Marymount in favor of Harvard, remains raw and unpolished on the offensive end but certainly has the physical tools to make an impact down low.

“Offensively, he was a little limited. But within a week and a half, he’s got a hook shot—lefty, righty—dunks, alley-oops, boxing out, learning the plays quickly,” junior Andrew Van Nest says. “We don’t really have to take him under our wing. If he messes up, we get on him, and he learns from that. We’re always honest with him, and he learns quickly.”

Okam is joined by a pair of rookie guards hailing from Northfield Mount Hermon School, a Massachusetts prep school that has consistently sent graduates all over the Ivy League.

Already garnering his fair share of praise, highly-touted wing Laurent Rivard will be sure to see playing time right away in a crowded Harvard backcourt—or perhaps even up front.

“Laurent—he’s a complete player already,” McNally says. “One thing about him that you rarely see in a freshman is that he’s like 220 pounds, 6’5”, great build; he’s a really strong guy for how young he is.”

Predicted to be the Ancient Eight’s Newcomer of the Year by Lindy’s Sports, Rivard has a versatile skill set and a high basketball IQ to go along with his impressive frame.

“He excels as a fundamentally sound wing that can really shoot it with range,” says Barry Hayes of Hoopstars Canada. “He is unselfish and has good vision with the ball—always a great combination.”