Edosomwan Provides Spark as Reserve

Robert F Worley

When the Harvard men's basketball team takes on Cincinnati in Spokane Thursday afternoon, freshman Zena Edosomwan may provide a spark off the bench.

Two years ago, the Harvard men’s basketball team notched its first-ever full Ivy League championship, earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. However, the biggest decision delivered to the Crimson on Selection Sunday may not have been the one made by the tournament committee.

On the very same day, Zena Edosomwan, a four-star recruit from Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles, made a selection of his own. The 6’9” power forward committed to the Crimson, becoming the most highly touted recruit to ever land in Cambridge.

Labeled the No. 76 prospect in the Class of 2013 by Scouts Inc., Edosomwan received offers from 40 different schools, including UCLA, Texas, and Cal. In the end, however, the forward was set on coming to Harvard.

“[Zena] had his mind made up very early that [his choice] would be Harvard,” said Greg Hilliard, Edosomwan’s former coach at Harvard-Westlake. “We assisted in any way we could to make that dream come true.”

The path to Cambridge for the California native was not exactly a clear one. In 2012, Edosomwan suffered a setback as his SAT scores fell a mere 30 points shy of the qualification standards set by the university for admission.

Nonetheless, instead of accepting an offer from another school, the forward decided to reclassify as a 2013 prospect and attend prep school for a year. Ultimately, he chose Northfield Mount Hermon in Western Massachusetts, where Crimson teammates Laurent Rivard, Matt Brown, and Evan Cummins all attended.

The move proved to work out in all facets. Edosomwan averaged 12.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Hoggers, carrying them to a national championship. And most importantly, the forward qualified for admission to Harvard.

Now in his first year with the Crimson, Edosomwan has primarily served as a role player. On a team dominated by upperclassmen, the forward has received just 5.7 minutes per game, averaging 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds in 22 contests.

However, even in limited action, Edosomwan has shown flashes of what he is capable of. The forward has scored in double figures four times this season, including an 11-point, nine-rebound performance against Florida Atlantic in January.

“I think [Zena] is adjusting to what we are doing very well,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We have a fairly deep roster in terms of our post guys, so [there are not always] as many opportunities to play him as much. But he’s coming…. He is a strong kid, and he will have a really bright future.”

Edosomwan will certainly get his chance to shine in the coming years. The absence of senior forward Kyle Casey next season will provide an opportunity for playing time, and the ensuing departure of now-junior forwards Steve Moundou-Missi, Jonah Travis, and Kenyatta Smith the following year could launch Edosomwan into a primary role.

If he can come close to emulating his high school numbers, the Crimson should be in good shape. Edosomwan was named a McDonald’s All-American nominee twice, and he averaged 16.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in his senior at Harvard-Westlake.

But for now, as Harvard prepares for its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, Edosomwan is doing everything he can just to fit into the system.

“My role is to just be tough, be strong, be physical, [and] finish,” Edosomwan said. “The team is so talented this year and so deep that if I do my role, then I’m just helping build on that team success.”

Nonetheless, while Edosomwan will undoubtedly have a much larger effect in the future, he could still make an immediate contribution in his first go at the Big Dance.

Fifth-seeded Cincinnati, Harvard’s second round opponent, boasts the sixth best scoring defense in the country and is known for wearing down opponents. If fatigue or foul trouble becomes an issue for the Crimson’s forwards, Amaker could briefly turn to Edosomwan. He would likely be responsible for defending 6’9” forward Jermaine Lawrence, a freshman who offers the Bearcats a large presence inside.

If Edosomwan does receive minutes Thursday, it would mark his first real battle against a top-tier opponent. His closest such experience came against Colorado, where he received just five minutes of work.

Indeed, the freshman has been eagerly awaiting this kind of moment ever since choosing Harvard over several power conference teams two years ago.

“We would tease [Zena and say,] ‘Are you going to lose to those [kinds of teams] in the early rounds?’” said Hilliard about his coaching staff after Edosomwan made his decision. “And he said, ‘Absolutely not. We are going to build a team that will compete for the national championship.’”

—Staff writer Jake T. Meagher can be reached at