Basketball Plays Host to Several Blue-Chip Prospects

Tommy Boy
Hillary W. Berkowitz

Men’s basketball head coach Tommy Amaker is inviting several highly sought-after recruits to Cambridge for their official visits this weekend, which coincides with the football team’s home opener. Last year, Amaker hosted a similarly talented group but failed to secure the top prospects. This year’s visitors includes Californians Kenyatta Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie, Memphis guard Andre Hollins, and Cameroonian Steve Moundou-Missi.

No matter one’s opinion of Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker and his recruiting tactics, there is no disputing that the former Michigan and Seton Hall coach is committed to establishing a fresh legacy for a historically-middling Crimson program.

Just one year ago, Amaker and his staff welcomed to campus five prospects the likes of which are rarely seen in the Ivy League. Dwight Powell and Rod Odom, both among the top 100 players in the nation, were joined on official visits by marksman Austin Carroll, big man Majok Majok, and seven-footer Ugo Okam.

Only Okam eventually became a member of the Harvard class of 2014. Though the Crimson was one of Powell’s final three schools, and Odom maintained strong interest, in the end Amaker proved unable to win multiple recruiting battles with high-major BCS schools.

Harvard still managed to do quite all right: Okam is joined on the roster by highly-rated rookie Laurent Rivard, and the Crimson’s five-player haul is arguably once again the best in the league. But Amaker has made his ambitions clear: he aims to capitalize on the university’s name and generous financial aid in order to steal prospects from conferences far more prestigious (athletically) than the Ancient Eight.

While he may have failed to hit a home run last year—and in July even elected to acknowledge a secondary recruiting violation that occurred in the summer of 2007—it appears that the former Duke star is ready for another try at making a national splash, just a few months before the beginning of his fourth season at the helm of Harvard.

This upcoming weekend—which will, like last year, feature the home opener for the Crimson football team—a strong crop of prospects will be once again visiting Cambridge and exploring all that Harvard has to offer.

The group is headlined by Kenyatta Smith, a 6’8, 275-lb big man at Flintridge Prep School (La Canada Flintridge, Calif.). Harboring ambitions of attending medical school, the post prospect has a final three of Vanderbilt, Penn, and the Crimson. He will visit Vanderbilt next weekend.

Rated a 90 by ESPN, which has him ranked as the No. 29 center in the nation, Smith attended the NBA Top 100 Camp in June and has the potential to make big waves in the Ivies—especially critical for Harvard, severely lacking in front-court depth.

“The size and tools are there,” Scout’s Dave Telep wrote of Smith. “Once he turns up the intensity and becomes comfortable as a force in the paint, he’s got a chance to have a strong college career.”

“They’ve been after Kenyatta for quite some time now, so I think he’s got a good relationship with the coaches, from Amaker down to coach [Brian] DeStefano, [Yanni] Hufnagel, and [Kenny] Blakeney,” said Garrett Ohara, Smith’s high school coach. “He’s really comfortable with them, and obviously the school is a great place. He’ll enjoy his visit out there, and he told me he enjoyed meeting some of the players on an unofficial visit last year.”

“He’s gotten close with the Penn staff as well,” Ohara added. “Vanderbilt came in a little bit later...the relationships with the coaches will be very important to him.”

Smith, who was unable to be reached for comment, will be joined this weekend by a pair of promising back-court prospects.

A senior at White Station High School (Memphis, Tenn.), Andre Hollins has the Crimson among his final five. Hollins, who is rated as a three-star prospect and No. 30 at his position by Scout and No. 126 in the nation by Rivals, sounded excited to talk about Harvard in an interview last week.

“[Their] academics [are among] the best in the world—I know I can’t go wrong there,” Hollins said. “Athletically, they’re doing some good things.”

Hollins made a visit to Auburn two weeks ago—which he reportedly described as “perfect”—and next month the 6’2.5”, 195-pound guard will be visiting the campuses of his other three choices: Ole Miss, Minnesota, and Stanford. On Monday, his Facebook page said, “Enjoying my home visit with Stanford coaches.”