Ask Matt Stehle to describe his experience playing basketball last season for Harvard, and the first thing he will say is “frustration.”
Such a description may seem strange coming from a player who put up the kind of numbers that Stehle did in his breakout sophomore campaign. The lefty forward from Newton, Mass. averaged 13.9 points and a team-high seven rebounds per game, while leading the Ivy League in blocked shots with 43—nearly 1.6 blocks per game.
Stehle’s tremendous individual season, however, came in the midst of a dismal 4-23 campaign for the Crimson, which struggled mightily throughout the year to a last-place finish in the Ivy League.
“Personally, I guess I had a pretty good season,” Stehle says, “but it doesn’t really mean much when you only win four games.”
Those who followed Ivy League basketball certainly felt that Stehle’s efforts meant something, as he was selected as an Honorable Mention All-Ivy performer, the only freshman or sophomore to make the all-league squad. In addition, Stehle was named Harvard’s MVP and Most Improved Player at the team’s postseason banquet.
He would have happily traded all the accolades for a few more wins.
“You don’t really deserve any individual recognition when you go 4-23,” Stehle says, displaying his devotion to the team and a sense of humility that others have recognized.
“Last year we tried to get him to be more assertive, in all respects, and I think he was a little reluctant to do it, because he is such a good person,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan says.
“Matt is unselfish to a fault,” adds Joe Killilea, the basketball coach at Newton South, Stehle’s alma mater.
Part of Stehle’s modesty doubtlessly stems from the fact that he still has much to prove in terms of team success.
Though he compiled a 59-9 record in his three years on the varsity squad in high school, the Lions lost in the playoffs each year, falling to Brookline High in the state quarter finals in Stehle’s senior year.
In his first year at Harvard, Stehle was kept from contributing to the team by injuries, averaging only 4.4 minutes in 19 games.
And last year, he had to deal with the frustration of getting prepared to play for a team that had let losing become an unshakable habit.
“I’d probably be correct if I said it was everyone associated with the team’s worst basketball season,” Stehle says. “All of us know what it felt like last year, and none of us want to experience that this year.”
But with return of sophomore center Brian Cusworth and the entire starting lineup, Stehle is confident that the experience will be a much better one this season than last.