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Harvard Basketball Tips Off 2023-24 Season with Crimson Madness

The Harvard women's basketball team celebrates its 74-63 victory over the University of Rhode Island on March 23 at Lavietes Pavilion, sending the Crimson to the quarterfinal match of the 2023 NCAA WNIT. Harvard went on to lose against Columbia in a 77-71 battle on March 26.
The Harvard women's basketball team celebrates its 74-63 victory over the University of Rhode Island on March 23 at Lavietes Pavilion, sending the Crimson to the quarterfinal match of the 2023 NCAA WNIT. Harvard went on to lose against Columbia in a 77-71 battle on March 26. By Courtesy of Dylan Goodman/Harvard Athletics
By Alexander K. Bell and Molly R. Malague, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard men’s and women’s basketball teams will welcome crowds to Lavietes Pavilion for the first time this season on Friday, Oct. 13 for Crimson Madness. As both teams wrap up their pre-season preparation and await opening night on Nov. 6, the event will be an opportunity for players to show off their skills and compete against each other on the court.

Women’s Basketball

From the first tip to the final buzzer of the 2022-23 season, Harvard women’s basketball embodied grit and belief. The crew compiled a 20-12 record (9-5 Ivy League) and established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the conference, finishing runners-up.

Despite graduating three key players, the team aims high, setting lofty goals and carefully crafting a championship identity for the year.

“One of the focuses for us this year [is] belief and our mantra of ‘Believe it,’” freshman guard Abigail Wright said. “[The team] had a really successful and groundbreaking year last year with the new coaching staff, and we are just trending upwards from that.”

The Crimson hopes to ride that upward trajectory through tournaments and to titles.

“We want to win an Ivy championship,” sophomore forward Katie Krupa said. “We want to make it to the NCAA tournament, [and] hopefully make a run in the NCAA tournament.”

The Crimson certainly boasts a lot of confidence but is well aware of the work that it will take to dominate in one of the nation’s strongest leagues.

“We have a target on our backs,” Wright said. “Nothing is going to come easy and the coaches have been very transparent about that.”

Preseason training began as soon as players returned to campus. The Crimson locked in at Lavietes Pavilion, with second-year head coach Carrie Moore steering them through drills that developed players both individually and as a group.

“[The] team was brought together through a lot of physically taxing activities that we had to complete,” Krupa added. “[We] grew tougher mentally, stronger physically and came close together through that.”

Moore consistently emphasizes the importance of this teamsmanship, and Crimson Madness will offer an opportunity to put this camaraderie on display — along with a healthy dose of competition.

“Everyone on the team is very competitive,” Wright said. “[Practice] is always a very competitive atmosphere, we are always pushing each other to be better.”

“We [get competitive] every single day at practice and I know the men do too,” Krupa said. “It will be a super competitive, fun event.”

Above all, Crimson Madness is about community. Some contests will involve women facing off against men, a rare opportunity for the two teams to perform together on their shared stage.

“We definitely have some overlap. We have a really good relationship [with the men’s team],” Wright said. “We see them in the gym, they see us in the gym — it's a very friendly environment, everyone gets along really well.”

“We share the bond of basketball so we respect each other a lot,” Krupa added.

It is also important to the program to cultivate a Crimson family that extends far beyond Harvard's gates.

“We want everyone in the community, everyone around, students, not students, kids, anyone to come, be a part of something that is really fun and cool,” Wright said.

Having grown up in neighboring Newton, Mass., Wright has a unique perspective on Harvard basketball’s place in Boston-area youth basketball.

“When I was growing up[area teams] used to come and play at halftime for the Harvard women’s team,” she said. “Kids from my town and from around me will definitely be at a ton of games this year.”

These kids will have a lot to root for this season, starting with Harvard’s season opener at Maryland on Nov. 6.

Men’s Basketball

Harvard men’s basketball returned to the court in late August on a “Canada Foreign Tour” during which the team played four games against Canadian opposition. Last season, the Crimson competed with some of the best in the league, posting a (14-14, 5-9 Ivy) record, ultimately falling short of the Ivy League Tournament after losing six of its final eight Ivy games.

Harvard began its preseason trip with a journey north to Montreal where it defeated McGill University 75-47 and saw four players reach double-digit point tallies. The Crimson then traveled to Ottawa where it lost to the University of Ottawa 65-52 before beating the defending Canadian National Champions, Carleton, 75-72 in another 75-point offensive performance. The tour ended in Toronto, with a narrow 68-65 defeat to the University of Toronto.

The new-look Harvard team surely had lots to think about as it headed back to Cambridge to prepare for the forthcoming season, but as junior guard Denham Wojcik reflected, the trip was just as much about the team’s time off the court as it was on it.

“I think the big takeaway from Canada was just spending time together as a team and building team chemistry ahead this season,” reflected Wojcik.

Wojick will serve as co-captain for the upcoming season. After missing part of last season due to injury, Wojcik is excited to lead the team.

“I'm excited for November 6, and before that next Friday for Crimson Madness,” he said. “It'll be a good opportunity for the students and all our fans to come and see us and to play in front of them. We're really excited as a team and I'm personally excited to try to lead these guys and get the Crimson back on track.”

Then-first-year forward Chisom Okpara dribbles the ball past Cornell in Harvard's 95-89 takedown of the Big Red on Jan. 21, 2023. Okpara had the fourth-highest average of points scored last season at 7.4.
Then-first-year forward Chisom Okpara dribbles the ball past Cornell in Harvard's 95-89 takedown of the Big Red on Jan. 21, 2023. Okpara had the fourth-highest average of points scored last season at 7.4. By Dylan J. Goodman

As previously mentioned, Crimson Madness will allow players from the men’s and women’s teams the opportunity to compete against each other on the court. The event will feature skills challenges, three-point contests, and team scrimmages, among other crowd-engaging events.

One of the undisputed lows of the Crimson’s Canada tour came on Aug. 25 against the University of Toronto when junior guard Evan Nelson sustained a season-ending left Achilles injury. Nelson has since undergone a successful surgery but will be out for the entirety of the 2023-24 season while recovering. Despite the injury, Nelson will continue to serve as a co-captain this season, guiding the team with his experience, albeit from the sidelines.

“I went through [it] last year, so I know what he's going through a little bit with the recovery and everything,” said Wojcik. “His role has obviously changed, unfortunately, but he's still our co-captain, so he has an impact and he has an influence on how our team operates.”

In addition to Nelson’s injury, the Crimson enter this season with some notable absences from last season’s roster, including then-junior guard Sam Silverstein, the unanimous 2022-23 First Team All-Ivy selection Chris Ledlum, and fellow departed seniors Idan Tretout, Luka Sakota, and Tommy O’Neil. Those changes will certainly change the team’s appearance, but with five new additions to the squad and a talented class of returning underclassmen, the team is focusing on its new strengths.

“I think the addition of the first-years definitely bring us a new type of energy and youth to the game,” sophomore forward Chisom Okpara said. “Not to say we couldn't play quickly with the team last year, but I feel like with this team, we play up and down more.”

Okpara is coming off of a successful first year in which he played in all 28 games, ending the season with an average 7.4 points a game.

When asked about his goals for the season ahead, Okpara emphasized his commitment to pushing the team to be the best it can be.

“The main goal, obviously, is to put the team first and just continue to play hard and become contenders in the Ivy League Tournament, ultimately win the Ivy League tournament, and play in the NCAA Tournament,” said Okpara.

Harvard will kick off its 2023-24 season with a home game against local rival UMass Boston at 7:00 pm EST on Nov. 6 in Lavietes Pavilion. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

— Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at alexander.bell@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Molly R. Malague can be reached at molly.malague@thecrimson.com.

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