Ivy Hoops Wide Open for the Taking
As winter begins to creep over Cambridge, anticipation builds for the encore to the most successful season in the history of Harvard men’s basketball. Last year, the Crimson finished 21-8—the first time in school history that the team has won more than 20 games—and advanced to the postseason for the first time in over 60 years.
But for Harvard, one thing remained elusive. Despite climbing from a 6-8 conference record in 2008-09 to 10-4 last year, the Crimson was once again unable to claim the Ivy League title, finishing in third place in the Ancient Eight standings behind Cornell and Princeton.
This year’s team hopes to succeed where none of its predecessors have before and claim the first-ever Ivy League championship in school history.
“Like everyone else, we are solely striving to be the best we can be every year,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker says. “Every season is different. It’s a new group and a new year this season with players taking on new roles.”
The end of last year heralded the departure of four seniors from the team, including two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection Jeremy Lin ’10, whose success has carried him into the NBA, where he plays for his hometown Golden State Warriors.
The loss of the class of 2010 leaves the Crimson without any seniors on its roster. The leadership roles now rest upon the shoulders of junior co-captains Oliver McNally and Keith Wright.
“Last year, we could get picked up by Jeremy or one of the older guys that had been there for a few years,” McNally says. “[This year] our juniors are the oldest guys. Luckily, we’ve played a lot in our first couple of years, and the sophomores played a lot last year, so we’re not as young as we may appear.”
Harvard returns eight members from last year’s squad, including five of its top six scorers. Among them is the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year, sophomore forward Kyle Casey.
The injury bug bit Casey this offseason, as the sophomore went down with a broken right foot that will sideline him for the start of the season.
In Casey’s absence, Harvard’s frontcourt will be anchored by junior forward Keith Wright, who will be joined by an inexperienced cast featuring junior Andrew Van Nest, sophomore Jeff Georgatos, and freshman Ugo Okam.
But the Crimson’s biggest strength lies in its backcourt. Returning sophomores Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster will likely join McNally in the starting lineup and look to push the tempo.
Together the group will undertake what may be the toughest schedule in Harvard history.
This season, the Crimson will have to contend with four teams from BCS conferences, with three games on the road. The team goes to Michigan on Dec. 4, Connecticut on Dec. 22, and Boston College on Jan. 5. Harvard will also face Colorado at home on Nov. 28.
“We have played Michigan since I’ve been here,” says Amaker, who coached the Wolverines from 2001-07. “It’s another game that is going to be incredibly challenging with playing an opponent at that level, especially being a marquee program in the Big Ten.”
“We would love to keep playing Boston College each year, especially since they are so close and local,” he adds. “It brings a local rivalry and creates a buzz in Boston.”