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Mark Kirkland, a Mather House sophomore, watched this weekend's NCAA basketball tournament from a different perspective than your average Harvard student. Not only does he stand 6-ft. 6-in. tall, but as Kirkland says, there's an added dimension when you've played against some of the players you're watching on the tube.
Although he plays down his high school basketball career, Kirkland was an all-American ("There's a lot of politics to that," he says) at Kennedy High School in Sacramento, Calif.
With a little coaxing, he tells of the big showdown with Elk Grove High School, which was led by Bill Cartwright, who now plays center on that wunderkind, 29-2, University of San Francisco team. Cartwright was averaging about 50 points a game, give or take a dozen, but on this particular evening he was held to 14 by Kirkland.
Trailing by two, with four minutes remaining, Kennedy H.S. went into a stall until the clock ticked down to ten seconds.
In the Clutch
Kirkland then drove the lane, tieing the game and drawing a foul. Talk about PRESSURE, and storybook finishes. With college scouts and big press writeups hovering in the wings, Kirkland sunk the shot and Elk Grove High.
Elk Grove rebounded from the loss to be named third best team in the nation in one poll and Mark Kirkland went East to the scenic shores of the River Charles.
Wait a minute. What happened to city boy makes good at state U.? Why did Kirkland spend most of last Saturday concocting yellow and white crystals in a Chem 20 lab rather than playing for University of Nevada, Las Vegas at the Omni in Atlanta, or at least hanging around the USF campus with the rest of the guys? (Both schools recruited Kirkland.)
Harvard was not exactly foremost in Kirkland's mind in the spring of his senior year as he was illegally approached by several coaches and offered large scholarships to play basketball. "At the time I figured I was going to school to play basketball," Kirkland says. "I didn't figure I'd end up here pushing books."
But during the summer, Kirkland came up lame in a pickup game. He had pulled a muscle away from his hip making even walking painful. Figuring what the athletic director giveth he can taketh away (ie. scholarships), and wanting to go East, Kirkland found himself at Harvard.
But that's not the main point. After all, most of us got here by some circuituous route.
The leg injury was bad and it was not going to go away without surgery. Kirkland went out for the freshman team here but the pain was too much. "It just wasn't worth it. It hurt in bed."
Maybe Bobby Orr can understand what it is like to prematurely give up something you've been doing well most of your life, or at least he should be thinking about it. Well it ain't easy.
As Kirkland recanted the tale of his moment in the limelight, one could tell that he missed it. It was not because he saw a pro career go down the drain.
"I used to play several times a day, regardless of the weather. I really liked it...It was just like an extension of my personality," Kirkland says, groping for the words to explain his feelings.
In the last seven months, Kirkland estimates that he's hit the court just seven times. He says, "I've begun to accept that I probably won't play competitive ball again."
Would things have been different at another school? Would he have gone through with an operation at a basketball school? Largely due to the scholarships, Kirkland feels that "more than likely I would have done everything I could have to play" even if that entailed getting the knife. He adds that he didn't give up easy here, though.
Kirkland says that he has heard complaints of "racial bias" from people in the basketball program but that "my dealings with Satch (Harvard coach Tom Sanders) have been very open and friendly."
He complains about the poor athletic facilities which include a whirlpool too small for him to squeeze into. The state of Harvard facilities and basketball program did not contribute to his decision not to play, however, Kirkland says.
If he could, Mark Kirkland would still be playing basketball, whether at Harvard or on television in the NCAAs.
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