Boston Colleges: Ivy

Amaker hires Eskildsen as new assistant

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
It’s that time again, time for everyone’s favorite (fake) game show! Who’s ready to play “Six (or fewer) Degrees of (Basketball) Separation?”

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker hired a new assistant coach on Wednesday, bringing in Brian Eskildsen to replace the departed Adam Cohen (who followed the Yanni Hufnagel route to Vanderbilt, after Hufnagel departed Vandy for a golden opportunity at Cal).

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the connections that may have led the Crimson’s new assistant to Cambridge (or Allston, if you want to be technical).

A Tennessee graduate (Class of 2009), Eskildsen got his start in basketball administration as an undergraduate office assistant and scout team member for the Lady Vols and legendary coach Pat Summitt. From there, he moved to the University of New Orleans as director of operations.

That job led Eskildsen to Stanford, where he worked as recruiting and video coordinator for Johnny Dawkins -- a former teammate of Amaker’s at Duke. (That’s one tie.)

After three seasons in Palo Alto, Eskildsen moved to Houston to take a job as an assistant coach under Rice coach Ben Braun. With the Owls, Eskildsen worked with the post players, served as recruiting coordinator, was in charge of opponent scouting and was tasked with game scheduling.

And who did the Owls play in 2013-14? Harvard. (That’s at least two ties -- and since Eskildsen was in charge of scheduling and then scouting the Crimson we’re going to rewrite the rules and count this as three in one to bring our total to four ties.)

A native of Fairfax, Virginia, Eskildsen went to the same high school (WT Woodson) as -- wait for it -- one Tommy Amaker (that’s five ties).

Finally, there’s the Twitter connection. If you’re looking for entertainment in your social media experience, neither Amaker nor Eskildsen is your man. (Amaker doesn’t have a Twitter account; Eskildsen has an account, complete with new Harvard banner, but zero tweets.)

That makes six ties (give or take). Thanks for playing!

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard hoops gets Ivy championship rings

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
To the victors belong the spoils.

Harvard men’s hoops won its fourth straight Ivy League title in 2013-14, and this week the Crimson collected their prizes.

Crimson associate director of athletic communications Andrew Chesebro tweeted a picture of the bauble on Friday:

Assistant coach -- and former player -- Christian Webster also couldn’t resist showing the trinket off, posting a picture of his latest reward on Instagram:

The caption?

“Add one more to the collection ... ”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Rivard & Co. celebrate Harvard graduation

May, 29, 2014
May 29
Laurent Rivard never seemed to be much of a trash-talker.

Maybe it’s because he’s Canadian, or maybe it’s because he’s always been a specialist on the court for the Crimson. Whatever the reason, Rivard was one of the last Harvard hoops players you’d see beating his chest after a big play.

About the closest the two-time co-captain would come to on-court braggadocio was throwing up three fingers after stroking another 3-pointer.

Which is not to say the sharpshooter from Quebec will never let people know when he’s done something he’s proud of.

Harvard held its commencement ceremonies on Thursday, and among the many graduates were Rivard and four of his Harvard hoops teammates.

Rivard, who helped the Crimson win three straight outright Ivy League titles and played in three straight NCAA tournaments to end his career, tweeted about the day after the ceremonies:

The Crimson’s all-time leader in 3s, Rivard posted the following picture to Instagram:

The rest of his message?

Got to meet some incredible people, met@christylee101, had an unbelievable basketball at Harvard with @harvardathletics. Thanks to my family and friends who were with me from day 1!#whatdidyoudotoday?
Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Saunders wins Ivy POY; six Crimson All-Ivy

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
The player Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has repeatedly called the Crimson's best is now officially the Ivy League's best, as on Wednesday the league named Wesley Saunders the 2013-14 Ivy League Player of the Year.

Saunders, a unanimous pick for the All-Ivy first team for the second straight season, is the third Crimson player to earn Ivy player of the year honors after Keith Wright in 2011 and Joe Carrabino in 1984.

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsIvy League player of the year Wesley Saunders' season isn't over yet, as Harvard awaits its NCAA tournament seeding.
The Crimson, who matched a program record with 26 total wins and set records with 13 Ivy wins and a 7-0 Ivy road record, landed six players on All-Ivy squads -- tied for most all time, with the 1994-1995 Penn team -- with Siyani Chambers, Steve Moundou-Missi and Laurent Rivard voted to the All-Ivy second team and Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry receiving honorable mentions.

A Los Angeles native, Saunders filled up the box score as a junior, averaging 14.0 points (8th in Ivy), 4.7 rebounds (17th), 3.9 assists (third), 1.7 steals (first). He finished in the top 10 in the league in field goal percentage (46.6), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7), blocked shots (0.8) and minutes per game (33.7).

Saunders was often asked to both guard the opposing team's best player and lead the Crimson in scoring, which he did 10 times.

Chambers, the Ivy Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, earns a second consecutive All-Ivy honor after averaging 11.1 points and 4.7 assists (second in the Ivy) on the Ancient Eight's most potent offense (73.6 points per game).

After receiving an honorable mention last season, Moundou-Missi and Rivard each earned their first All-Ivy second-team spot.

Moundou-Missi, a native of Yaounde, Cameroon, was named the Ivy's player of the week for his performances in the Crimson's season-ending weekend sweep, averaging 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in wins at Yale and Brown. He finished the season averaging a career-high 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Rivard, the Crimson's all-time leader in made 3-pointers (282), averaged 10.0 points and shot a career-high 42.6 percent on 3s.

And after sitting out the 2012-13 season after being implicated in a university-wide academic cheating scandal, Casey led the team in blocked shots (1.2, fourth in Ivy) and Curry matched his career high with 9.3 points per game.

The Crimson clinched the Ivy title outright with their win over Yale, their third straight outright and fourth straight overall, and will wait 'til Sunday to find out who they will play in the NCAA tournament.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard bests Yale, earns NCAA tourney bid

March, 8, 2014
Mar 8
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A few minutes before tipoff, the floor of play still empty but the stands quickly filling up, Tommy Amaker stole a glance through a side door.

It was a familiar sight for the veteran coach. Cheerleaders warming up. The band playing. Fans settling into seats, clad in their team colors.

[+] EnlargeAmaker/Chambers
AP Photo/Jessica HillTommy Amaker talks with PG Siyani Chambers in the first half of Harvard's 70-58 Ivy-clinching win.
But this court was painted in blue, rather than the familiar crimson, and instead of an H at midcourt there was a cartoon bulldog. And if all went well in the next 120-odd minutes, Amaker's Crimson would make more history in a building and a rivalry already steeped in it.

This was Friday night in the Ivy League in March. This was Harvard-Yale at John J. Lee Amphitheater with an NCAA berth on the line.

For any team playing its oldest, bitterest rival in unkind country, some display of nerves is understandable.

The Crimson displayed none. With a raucous, mostly blue-clad crowd bearing down on them, the visitors scored the game's first nine points and sprinted out to leads of 16-2, 20-7 and 36-23 in the first half.

"We talked about how important it was gonna be to get off to a good start here on the road," Amaker said. "We knew how challenging it was gonna be."

Justin Sears led all scorers with 28, but Harvard had three players in double digits and led by as many as 18 in the second half on its way to postseason play for the third straight season. With the 70-58 win, the Crimson claimed the Ivy League title outright and earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"For us to win the outright title, and I guess we've been told we're the first team that's officially in the NCAA tournament," Amaker said, "it means a great deal. And for the right reasons. For us to represent a great conference, for us to represent our institution and the way these guys have played and put their heart and souls on the line all season.

"I think we've shown that we've been the best team in our league. And that's saying something because we know how tough this league is night in and night out."

Harvard has indeed been the Ivy League's best all season long. Coming into Friday's game, the only blemish on the Crimson's Ancient Eight résumé was a home loss to these same Bulldogs.

So while Harvard-Yale typically doesn't require extra fuel for the competitive fire, the Crimson said that loss added some.

"We were very disappointed in what led to that weekend for us," Amaker said. "And we talked about it, our preparation and our work in practice. I thought we made a concerted effort to regroup and respond. And we've been on a mission since then to prepare the right way.

"We talk about a lot of people want to win, but how many people are gonna really prepare to win. I think we have embraced that, and ran with it."

[+] EnlargeHarvard
AP Photo/Jessica HillSiyani Chambers and Brandyn Curry celebrate after locking up the Crimson program's third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
After the loss to the Bulldogs on Feb. 8, the Crimson have ripped off seven straight wins and six straight by double digits. In four of those games, the Crimson held their opponent to 47 or fewer points.

"We had been talking about 'We have gotta seize the moment, because it's right there,'" Brandyn Curry said. "It was in our control and the only thing we had to do was just keep being us. Just don't be impostors or anything like that. Just play our game, and that starts with defense."

Both teams had forgettable nights in some facets, with Harvard going 14-for-32 (43.8 percent) on free throws and Yale going 0-for-14 on 3-pointers.

But from the floor, things were much more memorable for the Crimson. The visitors shot 56.8 percent for the night, while holding the hosts to just 36.0 percent.

"My message to the team before the game was 'Don't let the moment be too big, do your job and play within the lines,'" Yale coach James Jones said. "We did a poor job of that."

For Curry, the Ivy title and NCAA berth meant a little something extra this season. The senior co-captain sat out the 2012-13 season after being one of more than 100 Harvard students implicated in an academic cheating scandal. So he wasn't around for the historic upset of New Mexico in the Big Dance.

When asked what the win Friday night meant to him, Curry got a little choked up.

"It -- " he started, then stopped. "It means a lot. After going through everything last year, if you could ask us if this is how you wanted to win it, you couldn't ask for much better.

"Especially since three years ago we lost to Princeton here [in the Ivy League tiebreaker game] on the Doug Davis buzzer-beater with 2.8 seconds. So that was the toughest loss. That was the last time we were here playing for a championship. And we lost. So it definitely means a lot to come back and win here."

Harvard clinches share of 4th Ivy title in row

March, 1, 2014
Mar 1
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The Crimson often say the Ivy League is won on Saturday nights. And when Columbia came to Lavietes Pavilion for the final Harvard home game in 2013-14, that normally figurative saying turned literal.

A win Saturday night over the Lions would secure at least a share of a fourth straight Ivy League title, while a win and a Yale loss at Penn would guarantee an outright title and a third straight NCAA tourney berth.

[+] EnlargeKyle Casey
Eric Canha/CSMHarvard senior Kyle Casey throws down a monster dunk in his final home game at Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson knew the stakes, and they played like it from the jump.

"We just came out ready," Wesley Saunders said. "I think we came out with a lot of energy."

Saunders came up with a steal early, pushed hard upcourt and then dropped the ball back to a trailing Kyle Casey, who gathered himself, launched from the middle of the lane and finished the highlight-reel dunk with two hands. Laurent Rivard shook his defender, found a pocket in front of the Columbia bench, called for the ball and then drained the shot.

And Siyani Chambers jumped the passing lane, picking off the toss and sprinting the length of the court for a layup.

That layup made it 22-4 Crimson, with just more than 10 minutes elapsed. It was just about as dominant a start as one team can have and highlighted all the Crimson's strengths (defense, 3-point and free throw shooting and a willingness to share the ball).

And while the Lions tried to fight back, the hill was too steep to climb, and the Crimson refused to make it any easier in an 80-47 win.

"I'm really proud of our guys. I'm really proud of this team, this group right now," Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. "I just thought that our defensive effort clearly was on full display, how we started the game with the pressure we were able to put on.

"I was very, very pleased with that with what was at stake for us tonight."

The capper came courtesy of the two-time co-captain, Rivard. With Harvard comfortably ahead, the St. Bruno, Quebec, native let a 3 fly from the top of the key. Swish. And to add insult to injury, Rivard drew a foul on his follow-through, getting clipped and sliding on his backside all the way to the 'H' at center court.

As the crowd serenaded the Crimson's all-time leader in games (119 and counting, passing Oliver McNally) and 3s made (276), Rivard calmly stepped to the line and completed the four-point play.

Rivard finished with a game-high 21 on six 3s and three free throws, ending his Harvard career at Lavietes with a flourish.

"If you can write a script, this would be one of the ones you could probably write," Amaker said. "It doesn't always happen that way, and you recognize that, but when it does, how wonderful and cool is it to see it and be a part of it?"

But Rivard and fellow seniors Casey (10 points, four rebounds) and Brandyn Curry (five points, three rebounds) aren't done just yet. Yale managed to hold off Penn, keeping its hopes of an Ivy share alive and amping up the game this coming Friday in New Haven, Conn., between the Crimson and the Bulldogs.

Though they are the first Ivy team since Penn from 1993 to 1996 to win at least a share of the title for four straight seasons, the Crimson aren't satisfied. They want more.

"We came into the weekend knowing that we had to win two games," Rivard said. "So far, it's worked out. We need at least another win. But we know we want two next weekend."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard's Curry hits stride down stretch

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Brandyn Curry was flying high.

Having sat out the entire 2012-13 season, after he was one of more than 100 Harvard students implicated in an academic cheating scandal, on the eve of the 2013-14 season the Crimson senior co-captain couldn't wait to get back on the court.

"I came back and I was feeling the best I ever felt," Curry said Monday, in the lounge at Lavietes. "I told numerous people, that was the best I ever felt health-wise, my basketball game, everything. I put a lot of work for those prior months. And then I had a very good game against Holy Cross, I felt like I played very well and I was looking forward to doing well in the next couple games and then that just kinda came out of nowhere."

[+] EnlargeBrandyn Curry
Eric Canha/CSMBrandyn Curry is making a big impact for the Crimson after sitting out last season.
"That" was a left Achilles injury, and just as Curry was starting his senior season it knocked him out again.

"It was definitely tough, because I thought I wasn't gonna be out that long," Curry said. "I thought I would maybe miss the MIT game and stuff like that, and then come to find out I was gonna have to take all those weeks off. So it definitely was very tough.

"But if anything I learned from last year that everything happens for a reason, and there's always some good in the face of adversity."

For Curry, who ended up missing nine of the team's first 11 games, the silver lining is that as the Crimson careen down the stretch of the Ivy League schedule his legs feel fresh.

He matched his season high with 17 points in Harvard's 59-47 win at Princeton, the first at Jadwin Gymnasium since 1989, and has hit double figures in points in three of his past five games.

"We don't come away with a victory, obviously, on Saturday without Brandyn," Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. "I'm happy to see how well he's playing. He's in a very good rhythm right now and that's critical as we go down the stretch of this season."

Amaker calls Curry a sixth starter, making clear how high he holds him in regard.

"There's no maintenance with him, he's terrific," Amaker said. "He's everything that you could ask for and then some. ... There's no one more respected than Brandyn."

That respect was clear when his teammates voted Curry a co-captain, along with Laurent Rivard, despite the Huntersville, N.C., native not being on the team in 2012-13.

And it's only grown as the former starter and primary playmaker has seamlessly adapted to his new role off the bench.

"[He's been] giving us senior leadership, giving us scoring, toughness and all the things you would expect out of a veteran, senior guard, he does it," Amaker said.

Curry is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game, 45.7 percent shooting and 37.5 percent shooting on 3s in 2013-14, and is averaging a career-low 2.9 assists per game as he has moved off the ball and ceded playmaking duties to Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders.

Harvard (22-4, 9-1 Ivy League) has a one-game lead over Yale with four games left in the regular season. The Crimson will celebrate their seniors this weekend, as Cornell (2-22, 1-9) and Columbia (17-10, 6-4) visit for the final two Harvard home games.

It has started to hit Curry that it will all be over soon.

"After our last home game, I was like, 'Damn, so we've got two more weeks, two away trips and then come back and it's our last home game,'" he said. "It kinda hasn't hit me yet, I kinda don't want it to. Think about it's the last time I'm gonna suit up and play here ...

"It's definitely gonna be a special moment. I've got some more family coming up and I'm just gonna enjoy it. I'm just gonna enjoy every minute of it."

Amaker has certainly enjoyed having Curry, and his teammates Matt Brown, Kyle Casey and Dee Giger -- who also sat out 2012-13 due to the academic scandal -- back this season. Though he wouldn't say it outright, Amaker clearly feels it's unfair that Casey and Curry have largely been identified as the poster boys of the incident, while others have gone mostly unnoticed.

"I'm incredibly proud of those guys for what they had to endure, and how they handled it and how in a lot of ways they became the face of it for everybody," Amaker said of Casey and Curry. "I thought those guys were magnificent with it. I'm proud of that and I'm proud they're in the position they're in right now in their final season. Because this is what they wanted to return to do, to be in a position like this."

Four games left with a one-game lead and a shot at a fourth straight Ivy League title -- there's nowhere else Curry and the Crimson would rather be.

"It was like, 'I already sat out. I missed a whole year,'" Curry said, explaining how he dealt with the frustration of being injured. "I'm just so grateful just to be a part of this university and be able to play basketball, period. I have much more of an appreciation for everything in my life because of what I had to go through.

"So being injured was unfortunate but it really wasn't that big of a deal."

Headed for the finish, Curry and the Crimson are flying high once again.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Notebook: Harvard hoops hurting

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In the end, it was the cruelest of cameos.

After missing the first 17 games of the season, Harvard big man Kenyatta Smith returned from a foot injury to play two low-pressure minutes in the Crimson's blowout win at Dartmouth on Sunday. He didn't take a shot, grab a rebound or even commit a foul. He met with reporters Monday, when he talked about how excited he was to be back, and then roughly an hour later he broke a bone in his left foot in practice.

He'll miss the rest of the season with the injury.

"Very disappointing for him, first of all," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "And then certainly disappointing for our team, knowing that he was gonna be an integral part of this season, of whatever success we were gonna have. And know we don't have him. We didn't have other pieces here tonight, either, so it was a very tough game for us to figure out without having a full complement of players."

The Crimson were also without junior forward Jonah Travis, who suffered a concussion in the win over Dartmouth, and sophomore guard/forward Agunwa Okolie, who is dealing with a sore knee and missed a couple days of practice this week, in the 82-76 win over Princeton. Amaker said they're both out indefinitely.

"We anticipate having those guys at some point, they're not out for the season," Amaker said. "They're banged up now. We're very hopeful that we'll get them back and have those guys fill in our rotation. But will that be tomorrow? We don't know."

Harvard hosts Penn on Saturday night (9 ET).

"It was different, but Coach [Amaker] always prepares us," Harvard co-captain Laurent Rivard said of playing without the trio. "He always says 'Stay ready, so you don't have to get ready.' Whether we have those guys or not, we just stay true to our identity. Maybe we have to play some more minutes, but a lot of us are used to it."

Against Princeton, Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders each played 38 minutes, and Amaker mostly relied on his starting five when things got tight in the second half.

"Guys do a great job in practice to stay ready," Rivard said. "And everybody works hard so that when Coach calls your name they're ready to go in. We do the same thing whether guys are in or out. Injuries, they're not fun to have and we miss these guys but we do the same thing whether they're on the court or not."

Loving Lavietes

The 82-76 win was Harvard's 18th straight at home, one of the longest streaks in the nation (Duke has the longest active home win streak, at 28).

Holding serve at home is important, Rivard said, because the Crimson know just how hard it is to win on the road. So don't expect the Crimson to slack off Saturday just because Penn comes in on a downswing, at 4-12 overall and 1-1 in the Ivy.

"Coach always says the league is won on Saturday nights," Rivard said. "If we lose tomorrow we're back in the mix with everybody else. We're trying to separate ourselves from these teams, so it's a big game for us tomorrow."

"Our conference is a bear," Amaker said. "And I don't think anybody is gonna feel like they're gonna have a chance when it's all said and done if we can't feel like you have a very good home record within our league."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Saunders stars as Harvard tops Princeton

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Wesley Saunders walked back over halfcourt, in no hurry after the whistle blew.

The Los Angeles native is almost always the personification of California cool, calm and collected, but as he neared the Harvard bench, the junior showed a rare moment of frustration.

He snapped his right arm down, slapping his right hip, and then somewhat grudgingly accepted a handshake from point guard Siyani Chambers.

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
Eric Canha/CSMWesley Saunders did it all against Princeton, producing 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
What had the Crimson star upset? He'd just missed a shot he thought he should've made, a twisting, spinning fallaway jumper off glass (difficulty level: 9 out of 10) that would've given the Crimson a four-point lead over the rival Princeton Tigers late in the first half in what eventually became a 82-76 Harvard victory.

Saunders wasn't the only one upset at the miss.

"Well, I was frustrated that he took the shot," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker cracked after the game, drawing laughs from the gathered reporters. "We were talking about making sure that we got something inside, to the basket to get to the one-and-one. ... He's so good that he can do that, and drive it and then if [the defenders] help he's such a good passer you see what he can do with assists. I was disappointed that he settled for that.

"Because he's capable, that's the blessing and the burden -- that he's capable of making acrobatic shots. ... It was a major league kind of talent kind of play, but I think we needed more of a simpler play at that moment in time. I let him know that."

It was only Saunders' second miss of the night, but then simply being 4-for-6 for 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in less than a half of play isn't good enough anymore for Saunders.

"That was just a shot that I've been working on a lot, and it felt good coming off my hand so I kinda thought it was going in," he said. "I was just kinda frustrated that it didn't go in."

Then he got the earful from Amaker.

"He just wants me to be aggressive, attacking the basket," Saunders said. "He doesn't like it when I kinda let the defense get away with not having to guard me, really, and kind of just fade away from the basket. He wants me to always be going towards the basket, trying to make a play for my teammates or make a play for myself. That was one of those plays that was kinda iffy."

That play may have been iffy, but if it comes in the kind of package Saunders delivered Friday night, the Crimson will ultimately take it.

Hans Brase, who came into the matchup averaging 11.7 points, seemingly couldn't miss for the Tigers early. The 6-foot-8, 231-pound sophomore scored the Tigers' first 11 points and 17 of their first 21, finishing the half 7-for-9 overall, including 3-for-4 on 3s, for 18 points (a career high).

With Saunders blanketing Princeton leading scorer T.J. Bray in the first half, the Clover, S.C., native almost singlehandedly kept the Tigers close to the Crimson, who were playing without center Kenyatta Smith (out for the season because of a broken bone in his foot), backup big man Jonah Travis (concussion) and reserve guard Agunwa Okolie.

"He torched us early," Amaker said of Brase. "Much better job on him in the second half by us, and I'm sure some things that he missed."

While Brase cooled off after the break, Saunders stayed hot -- scoring the Crimson's first six points and then cutting left across the lane in transition and hitting Laurent Rivard for a wide-open 3 in front of the Harvard bench to push the hosts up by seven.

After that assist, which got the capacity crowd rocking and forced Princeton to call timeout, Saunders peeled off and ran all the way back upcourt, past the Tigers' bench, celebrating the sequence.

Harvard led by as many as 15, and though a Tigers run (aided by some shaking Crimson free-throw shooting) cut it to single digits late, the Crimson held on. Saunders finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block.

"Amazing," Rivard said of Saunders' performance. "Obviously if we can get that from him any night, we'll be tough to beat. For him to almost get a triple-double ... I think he made a lot of smart decisions and a lot of smart plays tonight and big shots, too, in the second half."

It has reached the point that the Crimson almost expect to see these kinds of numbers next to Saunders' name after a game.

"We know he's able to do it, so we kinda expect it from him and try to push him to do that every night for us," Rivard said. "He's a really, really big part of our team. If he doesn't do that, we kinda suffer in other areas."

Said Amaker: "That's what he can do. It doesn't surprise us. We know that he's capable of that kind of performance, when you look around and these are his kind of numbers. It was a tremendous effort on his part."

An effort that Harvard will take any day of the week, even if it includes the occasional frustrating circus shot.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard PG Curry eager to return to action

October, 3, 2013
Brandyn Curry was losing it.

Harvard was beating New Mexico for the first NCAA tournament win in the program's long history, and the Crimson's would-be senior co-captain was at home in the Charlotte, N.C., area.

"I was right in my living room with all my family, going nuts, going crazy," he said recently.

Curry was torn. Though he was happy for his teammates and coaches, he was also upset that he couldn't be a part of the historic accomplishment.

Because they were implicated in an academic cheating scandal that involved more than 100 Harvard students, Curry and fellow would-be senior co-captain Kyle Casey had to withdraw from school for a year before the 2012-13 season started to preserve their eligibility. The pair is back in the fold now, ready to get on with their lives as the Crimson prepare for the 2013-14 season.

[+] EnlargeBrandyn Curry
AP Photo/Matt YorkBrandyn Curry hasn't played for the Crimson since a 2012 NCAA tournament loss to Vanderbilt.
Asked about the scandal, Curry said he couldn't talk about the details but that withdrawing was "definitely the right decision."

Curry said he had to get a job -- he worked as a life-insurance salesman -- and was forced to work out on his own, separated from his Crimson teammates and the Cambridge campus.

"It was really tough at first to sit at home and watch, especially with the first game when we lost to UMass," Curry said. "Definitely wanted to be out there. But it was actually a really great experience to get to watch our team as a spectator.

"Getting to watch them really develop, especially the younger guys with Siyani [Chambers] and Wes [Saunders], getting to watch them pretty much grow up and step into their roles was a tremendous thing to watch."

Taking over the point guard spot after Curry had to withdraw, Chambers ran with the opportunity. The 6-foot, 170-pounder won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award, averaging 12.9 points (Ivy rank: sixth), 5.7 assists (first) and 37.8 minutes per game (first).

Saunders, shouldering the mantle of top scoring option as a sophomore, scored in double digits in all 28 of Harvard's games and led the Ivy in scoring per game (16.5 PPG).

Harvard returns practically its entire roster from the team that went 20-10 (including 11-2 in the Ivy) last season, losing only Christian Webster (who's back, too, as an assistant coach), and now adds Curry and Casey into the mix along with top recruit Zena Edosomwan.

"We're definitely excited, just adding pieces to the team," senior sharpshooter Laurent Rivard said. "We lost only one player and we're getting these guys back and getting a lot of experience from them, a lot of talent from them. They're players that have done a lot for this program. We're excited to have them back and try to take this season to a whole new level."

Coach Tommy Amaker said at the Massachusetts basketball media day that he doesn't know how the pieces fit yet. But Curry has a few ideas.

For starters, he expects more big things from Chambers.

"We expect him to really be the main one driving the team, being the quarterback out there and handling the ball and continuing to improve," he said. "I think having me and Kyle back he just has more weapons now to facilitate the ball to. I think we'll be great defensive-wise, and can wreak havoc in the backcourt."

In other words, don't expect Curry to butt heads with his young teammate over who gets to hold the reins.

"Absolutely," he said about whether he'll mesh well with Chambers. "I feel we're both unselfish players, we both can score and we both have our team's best interest in mind. So we're just trying to win, whatever it takes. I think we'll complement each other very well."

With another wildly successful season behind them, the Crimson appear to be more than happy to accommodate the returns of Casey and Curry.

One measure? The Crimson voted Curry a co-captain, along with 2012-13 co-captain Rivard.

Amaker said he wasn't surprised at the result, knowing Curry the way he does. Which is not to say the coach didn't find it noteworthy.

"I think that's an amazing thing for one of those guys to be thought of again in that way and he wasn't even there," Amaker said. "I just think if you look at that in a way, how much that speaks about Brandyn. I think he thinks of himself in that role. I think that's the way that he's always carried himself in our program."

"For me it was definitely a tremendous, tremendous honor," Curry said. "That was one thing that definitely hurt -- being co-captain and then having to take the leave, I wasn't really sure how it was gonna shake out because that's something that I wanted to be, was a captain."

Unlike his coach, Curry admitted the voting took him aback a bit.

"Part of me was surprised, because the young guys didn't really know me that well," he said. "Definitely a little bit of a shock. I'm just very happy that it did work out."

Having spent a year away, Curry returns with some added perspective. He can never get 2012-13 back, he'll never be a part of the historic first win in the Big Dance.

But that doesn't mean there's no history left to be made. And if Harvard can beat the pressure of raised expectations and make more winning history in 2013-14, Curry will surely lose himself in the middle of it.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Watch out for Harvard in 2013-14

March, 29, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Tommy Amaker believes the possibilities are endless for his Harvard Crimson.

That shouldn't be surprising. What else do you expect him to say?

The Crimson won their third straight Ivy League title, played in their second straight NCAA tournament and won their first NCAA tourney game in 2012-13, even though they lost two key players before the season even started.

[+] EnlargeBrandyn Curry and Kyle Casey
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsBrandyn Curry and Kyle Casey missed this historic season, but their return should make the Crimson even better in 2013-14.
And now that the dust has settled for Harvard after a 74-51 loss to No. 6-seed Arizona in the third round of the NCAAs, it's time to look ahead to 2013-14.

The picture does look fairly rosy for the Crimson.

Amaker and his staff had to scramble in September when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrew from school after being implicated in an academic cheating scandal that involved more than 100 students.

Young players like Wesley Saunders, Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith had to take on larger roles than they would've, and freshman Siyani Chambers was thrust into the starting lineup at the point. Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster, the only senior on the roster and as such the only player the Crimson will lose this offseason, were named co-captains.

The coaches called it an opportunity and started a mantra that went like this: "We may not have what we had, but we have enough."

Did they ever.

In his postseason wrap-up session with the media Wednesday in the lounge at Lavietes Pavilion, Amaker said he wasn't surprised by the improvements players like Saunders and Chambers made.

"One of the things that you try not to do is have something as a cap, or what you think could be the ceiling of something," Amaker said. "I've learned that through the years: You learn to put your philosophy in and put your blueprint down and then who knows where this thing could go?

"We believe that being here at Harvard allows us that opportunity that anything is possible."

Without Casey and Curry, the Crimson offense actually improved. In 2011-12, the Crimson averaged 65.6 points per game, third in the Ivy League; in 2012-13, the Crimson averaged 68.3 points per game, first in the Ivy League.

Though the defense slipped a bit, falling from first in the Ivy (55.6 points allowed per game) to third (64.1 points allowed per game), the Crimson made up for it with better 3-point shooting (39.8 percent as a team, first in the Ivy, up from 35.7 percent, fifth).

Chambers won the Ivy Rookie of the Year award, and Saunders led the Ivy in scoring. And now the Crimson get to add Casey (former Ivy Rookie of the Year, Harvard's leading scorer in 2011-12) and Curry (Ivy leader in assist-to-turnover ratio and Harvard's assist leader in 2011-12) to the mix, along with top recruit Zena Edosomwan.

[+] EnlargeZena Edosomwan
Reggie RankinHarvard will welcome top recruit Zena Edosomwan to Cambridge next fall.
"They've been as good as anybody in our league when they were here," Amaker said of Casey and Curry. "So having those guys return -- we have open arms.

"And [we] can't be any more excited for their return, for them to come back and be a part of our program, our school, our community and to finish what they came here to do, which is to be a Harvard graduate. Those things are very exciting to think about."

As to how exactly the pair will fit in with the new dynamic (Curry and Chambers play the same position; Casey and Saunders both have proven they can be go-to scorers), Amaker wasn't sure. And at this point, he's not getting hung up on the details.

After all, the Crimson haven't even started their offseason workout program yet.

"I haven't given it as much thought, certainly as you can imagine, as to the pieces of the puzzle for our team, but we certainly know they're going to be good players," he said. "They've done that throughout their time here and I don't anticipate that changing in the least bit when we get those guys back."

How much of a difference might having those two players back make? It's hard to say for sure, but at the very least the addition lengthens the rotation and spreads the burden a little more broadly.

In 2011-12, Harvard didn't have a single player among the top 10 in the Ivy in minutes played; in 2012-13, Harvard had four players among the top 10, including three of the top 5 (Chambers, first, 37.8 minutes per game; Saunders, third, 37.3; Rivard, fifth, 35.4).

Though Amaker praised his players for being responsible and preserving their strength throughout the season -- hinting that often players get worn down as much for off-the-court activities as they do on the court -- and admitted the Crimson got lucky not to suffer any serious injuries, the shortened rotation had to affect the team's play at times.

"I think we've had moments this past season where we weren't as sharp, we weren't as good. And that's gonna happen," Amaker said. "But certainly we're hopeful that we can learn and grow from moments that we weren't as good, we weren't as ready. We certainly can do a lot better and be a lot better. We had a handful of games that we felt we controlled down the end and couldn't close."

Of the Crimson's 10 losses, six were by eight points or fewer.

"There are a lot of things there that I think we can certainly look toward as areas where we can get better," Amaker said. "The depth of our team, the roster, the different combination of things that we're hoping to be able to present next year, [all those are areas] that can be possibilities for us to be a better basketball team and program."

Perhaps, as Amaker said, the possibilities really are endless.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

'Proud' Keith Wright salutes Crimson family

March, 22, 2013
[+] EnlargeKeith Wright
Debby Wong/US PresswireHarvard alum Keith Wright, the 2010-11 Ivy League player of the year, called Friday's win "a huge win for our program."
He's a professional now, playing basketball for a living. But that doesn't mean Keith Wright feels any less of a connection to his alma mater.

The forward for Uppsala in Sweden's top league (where he's listed at 209 centimeters and 109 kilograms) was watching Thursday night as No. 14 seed Harvard upset No. 3 seed New Mexico 68-62.

"It is such a huge win for our program," Wright said by email Friday. "I'm so proud of those guys."

Part of Tommy Amaker's first full recruiting class in 2008, Wright helped establish the winning culture that's flourishing in Cambridge right now. The 2010-11 Ivy Player of the Year played 33 minutes in the 12th-seeded Crimson's loss to No. 5 seed Vanderbilt in last season's NCAA tournament, finishing with eight points and nine rebounds.

After the Crimson upset the Lobos, Wright said he was able to video chat with some of his former teammates and coaches.

"For Coach Amaker to do what he did with the squad this year, given the circumstances, is unbelievable," Wright said. "All of the alums are so proud to be a part of what Harvard had become."

That includes some of Wright's other former teammates, like Oliver McNally and Houston Rockets star Jeremy Lin.

After the buzzer sounded in Salt Lake City, Lin tweeted his excitement.

Wright did the same:

Hours later, Wright sounded just as excited.

"It was just awesome to see. You can give credit to Coach Amaker but the players buying into his system and the brand of Harvard basketball is the most important part," Wright said. "Players like Wes Saunders stepping up and the emergence of Siyani Chambers was great to see. Kenyatta [Smith] finally coming into his own towards the end of the season … I'm just a proud alum, man.

"I feel extremely blessed to be a part of the Harvard program and community. We are all a family!"

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard's historic run happened slowly

March, 22, 2013
HarvardHarry How/Getty ImagesSiyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard celebrate Harvard's 68-62 win over New Mexico on Friday.
Though it might seem like it happens in an instant, history is made slowly.

So when the buzzer sounded in Salt Lake City and the Crimson flooded onto the court to celebrate the school's first NCAA tournament victory, they had indeed made history. But they didn't just magically appear on that stage at the Big Dance, didn't just magically turn into Ivy League contenders and then champions.

Harvard has traveled a long road to this point, a yearslong journey that isn't over yet.

The journey started six years ago, when the school decided to make a fresh commitment to the program, on and off the court, and chose Tommy Amaker as its next coach.

Building toward history

It's hard to overstate just what a historic achievement No. 14 seed Harvard's 68-62 win over No. 3 seed New Mexico really is.

Amaker is the 17th coach in Harvard's long basketball history, which stretches all the way back to 1900 (although Harvard didn't field teams from 1909 to 1920). Entering the 2012-13 season, the Crimson had played 2,268 games (winning 1,015 and losing 1,253) but had never won a postseason game of any kind (0-2 in the NCAA tournament, 0-1 in both the NIT and the tournament).

Of course, before Amaker took the 2009-10 team to the tourney following a buzzer-beating loss to Princeton for the Ivy League's automatic NCAA bid, only one Harvard team had even played in a postseason tournament.

And that was in 1945-46.

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
AP Photo/Rick BowmerSophomore Wesley Saunders was a unanimous All-Ivy selection after leading the Ancient Eight in scoring at 16.5 points per game.
Amaker took over in Cambridge before the 2007-08 season, having been fired by Michigan following the 2006-07 season. Amaker's Wolverines finished that season at 22-13 overall, including an 8-8 record in the Big Ten, with a second-round loss in the NIT.

What Amaker found by the Charles was a program that needed major upgrades both on and off the court. The Crimson needed better locker rooms, they needed better facilities and they needed more on-court talent.

But asked Friday about his "vision" for the Harvard program, Amaker said he didn't have to do anything special to make it a reality.

"I love the word 'vision,' first of all, and we use that a lot because that was real and truthful from day one of what I felt in my heart about Harvard. It's an incredible brand. It's a magical name, and that's not a knock to any other wonderful place or institution or university," Amaker told reporters in Salt Lake City. "I just think that it speaks for itself in so many ways of being considered the very best.

"I didn't have to overcome, or we didn't have to try and feel like we were overcoming anything. What we tried to do is present a vision and present Harvard as an option, as an opportunity. I never used the word 'sell.'"

Amaker did inherit some talent, including a point guard named Jeremy Lin, but otherwise the cupboard was close to bare early. (Lin, of course, went on to star in the Ivy League and then bounced around the NBA before bursting onto the scene with the Knicks last season. He now plays for the Houston Rockets.)

With Lin and a first recruiting class that included players such as Oliver McNally and Keith Wright, who would become stalwarts and two-year co-captains as juniors and seniors, Amaker set about building a winning culture in Cambridge.

That was a big deal because while the Crimson have had success in other sports, before Amaker arrived the men's basketball program never had.

[+] EnlargeChristian Webster
Steve Dykes/USA TODAY SportsChristian Webster is the lone graduating senior among Harvard's rotation players.
Keeping the momentum going

The success the Crimson have had this season is surprising for a number of reasons, the most obvious being all the talent they lost after last season. McNally and Wright graduated, and their would-be senior co-captain replacements also left before the 2012-13 season began.

Kyle Casey, the do-it-all forward and former Ivy League rookie of the year, and Brandyn Curry, the steady, speedy point guard, both chose to withdraw from school after being implicated in an academic cheating scandal that involved more than 100 students.

Their abrupt departure could have submarined the season. Where there should have been two experienced, knowledgeable and talented hands on the helm, suddenly there were none.

But that was true only briefly.

"The facts are what they are, and it wasn't anything that any of us would prefer to have happen at our school across the board with so many kids and families and folks involved in something like that which is somewhat from what I've seen," Amaker said Friday.

"But I think our guys have been able to adjust just like I would expect most young kids to be able to do. They've done it exceptionally well. I've been very impressed with how they have been able to do that."

After losing Casey and Curry, Amaker turned to senior Christian Webster and junior Laurent Rivard. The duo would have to lead, and hope youngsters such as Wesley Saunders, Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith (all sophomores) and Siyani Chambers (a freshman) would follow.

At first, the sudden added responsibility was jarring.

"Of course [the loss of Casey and Curry] was a big blow to our team," Rivard said on a conference call with reporters Monday, "but the coaching staff was quick to tell us that it was an incredible opportunity for the team and for each of us individually.

"We embraced that role and we did what we could to get the team to where it's at now."

Webster, who had 11 points against New Mexico to cross the 1,000-point mark for his career, said they've grown into their roles as the season has gone on.

"If you look at us from earlier in the season to now, it's like a change in worlds," Webster said in the call Monday. "It's gotten so much better."

Rivard, a native of Saint-Bruno, Quebec, played a big role in the upset of the Lobos. The sharpshooting guard was 5-for-9 from behind the arc, including three big 3s in the first half, to help the Crimson build a lead first and later come back after the Lobos had rallied to take the lead.

His 17 points were only one off the team lead (Saunders had 18), and without his consistent ability to slip free of his defender -- mostly New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow -- and hit open shots, Harvard almost certainly would have lost.

And while Rivard was only a two-star recruit coming out of Northfield Mount Hermon -- the prep school in Gill, Mass., that he transferred to in order to increase his recruiting profile -- that doesn't mean the shooter wasn't coveted.

After Rivard helped Harvard beat Boston College during his freshman season, Steve Donahue was asked whether the marksman had taken the Eagles by surprise.

"I know Laurent very well," Donahue said that day in January 2011, after Rivard scored a game-high 23 points in a 78-69 Harvard win in Conte Forum. "We recruited him very hard at Cornell. Terrific basketball player."

But as is becoming more and more common, the recruit chose to go to Harvard instead. And that has made all the difference.

"I think the back-to-back games in the Ivy League is going to help us a lot," Rivard said Friday of Harvard's preparation for Arizona. "It's a little different here now. I guess we have a day off in between.

"But during the Ivy League season, we would win or lose on Friday night and we had to turn the page whether we felt good about how we played or not, but we had to turn the page and focus on the next opponent. That's what we're doing today. We have practice right now. We're going to start focusing on Arizona, and I think it's going to help us."

Since 2010, the Crimson have added more three-star recruits (five) than the rest of the Ivy League combined (three, two for Yale and one for Penn), according to ESPN Recruiting Nation. And that total doesn't include the 2012-13 Ivy League rookie of the year, the first freshman to be voted first-team All-Ivy, Siyani Chambers (a two-star recruit).

Next season, the Crimson lose only the senior Webster, and should not only add another solid recruiting class -- including coveted prospect Zena Edosomwan, who turned down the likes of California, USC, Wake Forest, Washington, UCLA and Texas to commit to Harvard -- but also welcome back Casey and Curry (assuming the cheating scandal is settled).

So after winning a third straight Ivy League title, making a second straight NCAA appearance and capturing the first postseason win in school history, all in a season in which it was supposed to be weakened, Harvard likely will be even better in 2013-14.

Just imagine the history that Crimson team could make.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for and a frequent contributor to Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard point guard's time is now

March, 22, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY -- When Siyani Chambers chose Harvard, he hoped to be the Crimson’s starting point guard ... someday.

He dreamed of leading his team on an NCAA tournament run ... someday.

The fact that someday is today?

“Amazing," the 6-foot Ivy League rookie of the year said Friday, less than 24 hours after 14th-seeded Harvard knocked off No. 3 New Mexico for the program’s first NCAA tournament victory.

That word could describe his development, too.

[+] EnlargeSiyani Chambers, Tommy Amaker
Steve Dykes/USA TODAY SportsThrown into Harvard coach Tommy Amaker's starting lineup as a freshman, Siyani Chambers has thrived.
“He’s the leader on our team," said senior guard Christian Webster, whose team will face sixth-seeded Arizona on Saturday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16. “Laurent [Rivard] and I are the captains, but he’s the leader. He drove this team."

It’s a role the 19-year-old ball handler never expected, at least not this soon, when he arrived on Harvard’s campus less than a year ago. First recruited by Crimson coach Tommy Amaker when he was in the eighth grade, Chambers decided pretty quickly that he wanted to play for the former Duke guard because of what he could learn.

But Chambers also thought he would have some time to be a pupil, while playing behind Brandyn Curry, a Cousy award candidate last season. That is, until September, when Curry and fellow senior Kyle Casey withdrew from Harvard following an academic scandal.

When the freshman heard the news, his head spun. “I was definitely nervous -- very, very nervous," Chambers said. “All of a sudden, it’s your first year, you’re coming in trying to learn the whole process about everything: playing, dealing with school and basketball.”

To persevere, he said, he leaned on his teammates -- and they leaned back, looking for the vocal freshman to glue together a team whose chances of winning the Ivy League all of a sudden seemed precarious, at best.

But Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball exceeded expectations probably because he had no other choice, gaining confidence (and his team’s confidence in him) by becoming a steady assist man and scorer early; he even hit the game-winning basket with four seconds left against Boston University on Dec. 11.

“He’s a special kid, and certainly he plays basketball in a special way, and I think you get excited when you watch him play," Amaker said. “I know when we recruited him, we wanted him to play in that manner; sometimes I thought he held himself back a little bit, and I told him if you ever come to play for us ... we want you to be dazzling because you’re capable of it.”

His season stats -- 12.6 points and 5.8 assists per game -- were dazzling enough to make him the first freshman named first-team All-Ivy League.

But the way he melded his team dazzled, too. Sophomore Wesley Saunders emerged as a go-to scorer (16.5 PPG). Rivard became a scary outside threat (five 3s against the Lobos on Thursday). Kenyatta Smith and Steve Moundou-Missi improved in the post. Harvard finished the regular season 19-9, winning the Ivy League.

So maybe it was fitting that as the seconds ticked down on Harvard's historic upset Thursday, Chambers was the one with the ball in his hands, grinning and carefully watching the clock. That moment is a feat the Crimson hope to repeat against another bigger, more heralded team Saturday.

And one Chambers never imagined when he thought about his goals a year ago.

“I just wanted to come in and learn as much as possible, so when it was my time I could step in and be able to contribute to the game," he said, remembering. “... When I first decided to come here, I did not think this is what I would be stepping into.

“But I’m glad I came here, and I’m glad this happened.”



SAFETY FIRST: One teammate compared Wichita State sophomore Tekele Cotton to a strong safety. Shockers coach Gregg Marshall? He thinks the guard is more like a free safety.

Whatever the football analogy, you get the picture: The 6-2, 202-pound athlete is hard-nosed, hard-bodied and hard-focused on making stops. And if he can stymie a certain Gonzaga player like he did Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall on Thursday (the senior was brought to tears after his 1-for-12, two-point performance), Cotton knows his team has a better chance to upset the No. 1 team in the country.

“I look forward to being that guy, to chase around their player like I did yesterday," said Cotton, who is also averaging 6.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game this season. “So I look forward to chasing around Kevin Pangos. I have no problem with it; I enjoy it.”

Pangos, the Zags’ standout sophomore guard, is averaging 11.6 points per game this season and scored the final five points in top-seeded Gonzaga’s six-point survival against 16th-seeded Southern on Thursday. He said the key to competing with a physical team such as the ninth-seeded Shockers is to be physical right back.

“We don’t shy away from that; our team is tough," Pangos said. “We don’t back down from that at all.”

This should be an interesting matchup. The Shockers held Pitt to 35.2 percent shooting from the field -- and just 5.9 percent on 3-pointers. The Zags are third in the nation in field-goal percentage, making 50.4 percent of their shots.

NO ALARM HERE: Zags coach Mark Few wasn’t particularly rattled that the game against Southern went down to the wire; a win is a win is a win right now.

“At this point of the year, I don’t think we need to worry about aesthetics or, you know, differences," he said. “I know it’s cliché, ‘survive and advance,’ but there really is no other alternative. We’re not getting style points and we’re not getting graded -- you know, you either win or your season is over.”

QUOTE-WORTHY: “We know we’re in for a fight, especially the confidence that they have. When you win a game like that, it doesn’t just all of a sudden leave you; many times it carries through for the rest of the weekend. For us, it’s not about being consumed with Harvard, as much as it is about being consumed with ourselves, making sure we’re ready to go.” -- Arizona coach Sean Miller

Harvard lives the upset dream

March, 22, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- A year ago, Harvard guard Laurent Rivard was in awe just seeing the midcourt NCAA logo; after all, the Crimson hadn’t made the tournament in six decades.

So helping the program to its first tournament victory -- a 68-62 win over No. 3 New Mexico that marked the biggest seed upset by an Ivy League team?

That, he said, was indescribable. Although he tried: “You imagine it … it’s something everyone dreams about,” Rivard said after scoring 17 points and going 5-for-9 from 3-point range, “but it’s a different feeling when it actually becomes real.”

The win seemed improbable for a plethora of reasons: The Lobos (29-6) were bigger (7-footer Alex Kirk finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds), and more seasoned by playing in a conference many considered one of the nation’s toughest. Heck, some even thought UNM was robbed by the tournament committee when it didn’t earn higher than a No. 3 seed.

But Harvard countered with a four-guard lineup that was sharpshooting (52.4 percent overall, including 8-for-18 from 3-point land) and that frustrated Lobos leading scorer Kendall Williams into a forgettable, 1-for-6 night. Led by their tallest starter, 6-foot-8 Kenyatta Smith, the Crimson also aggressively banged with Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow (15 points, nine rebounds).

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
AP Photo/Rick BowmerHarvard's Wesley Saunders drives past New Mexico's Tony Snell on his way to 18 points.
“We knew they were going to be tough,” Smith said. “We just had to be confident.”

And they were, particularly down the stretch.

New Mexico, trailing for most of the game, took a 53-52 lead with 6:26 left on yet another Kirk inside move. But Harvard, even with its three bigger guys in foul trouble, countered with a 7-0 run -- beginning with another 3 from Rivard and including a jumper from guard Wesley Saunders (18 points) -- to rebuild its cushion. The Lobos never got closer than four after that.

“For me to see the composure that we had is meaningful to me as a coach,” Harvard’s Tommy Amaker said. “We had the lead. We lost the lead. We had to make plays and to have an answer each time when things got really tight there. We had to make pressure free throws. … But we didn’t wilt or cave in.”

Somehow, the Crimson (20-9) didn’t seem to feel the pressure of being a No. 14 seed on the brink of making history.

“I was just playing in the moment, enjoying the moment,” freshman point guard Siyani Chambers said. “… It felt like, just getting here, was our night.”

Indeed, not long ago it seemed like a long shot that the Crimson would make the tournament at all -- much less advance to the round of 32.

First there were the offseason academic problems that led the team’s co-captains -- Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry -- to withdraw from school.

And although those departures gave Chambers (5 points, 7 assists in 40 minutes Thursday) the opportunity to develop more quickly, the team wasn’t quite the runaway favorite it might have been to dominate the Ivy League -- as evidenced by back-to-back road losses at Princeton and Penn in early March.

Yet the Crimson endured. And prevailed.

And forget about last year’s awe-inspiring NCAA logo. Now, there’s a new daydream: the Sweet Sixteen.

“Before this, we wanted to be the Cinderella story,” Smith said. “And I guess now, we kind of are.”