The Harvard men's basketball team probably won't win its first-ever Ivy League championship this year.
But the union of first-year Coach Pete Roby and a fantastic freshman class--combined with some old favorites--may well produce that coveted title in the near future.
And like any good marriage, this one includes:
*Something old. Captain Pat Smith and junior Keith Webster team in a solid, veteran backcourt which should be the key to a successful season.
*Something new. Eight of the 15 players on Roby's opening day roster are freshmen, a very large--and very talented--group. Neil Phillips has already captured a starting slot at forward, and several of his classmates may join him before the season ends.
*Something borrowed. Forward Arne Duncan, last year's third leading scorer, borrowed a year from school to work on his thesis--leaving his thesis stronger but the Crimson forward line weaker.
*Something blue. The fast-breaking, fullcourt pressing game Roby hopes to play--aided by a relatively deep bench--should leave more than a few opponents gasping for air (and blue in the face).
Harvard has already played two games this season, losing its opener to Merrimack, 63-62, but coming back with a 64-62, buzzer-beating victory over Vermont. The cagers play their road opener tonight at Holy Cross.
Last year the Crimson opened up with a record eight straight wins and finished 15-9 (7-7 Ivy, fourth place) for the squad's best winning percentage in nearly 30 years.
But this year's team bears little resemblance to that unit. Gone are All-Ivy performers Joe Carrabino (Harvard's all-time leading scorer) and Bob Ferry (third all-time) and Coach Frank McLaughlin, who departed for the job of Athletic Director at Fordham.
McLaughlin announced his resignation from Harvard in late September and Roby, a three-year assistant for the Crimson, took over the following week.
"He's brought a lot of enthusiasm to the head coaching spot," Smith said of his new coach. "He's made the transition [from McLaughlin] really easy."
And for those who never played under McLaughlin--the freshmen--Roby is equally appreciated. "He's great because he'll push you to your potential, but he'll also pat you on the back when you've done something right," says rookie forward Fred Schernecker.
Rookie forward Matt DeGreeff concurs: "He's renewed my love for the game, made me fall in love with basketball all over again."
The coach seems as pleased with his players as the players are with their coach. "They've gotten here early to work on their game," Roby said during pre-season practice, "and they've stayed late to work on their game."