After reaching the highest heights in Harvard basketball’s long history in 2012-13, winning a third straight Ivy League title and the school’s first NCAA tournament game, Tommy Amaker lost just one player to graduation.
That means the rest of the best team in Crimson annals will be back, and as if that wasn’t enough Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey -- would-be senior cocaptains who left school prior to the 2012-13 season because they were implicated in a widespread academic cheating scandal -- will be back to bolster the core of Wesley Saunders, Laurent Rivard and Siyani Chambers in 2013-14.
But, wait, there’s more.
That one player the Crimson lost to graduation? He’s coming back too.
After the Crimson were knocked out of the NCAAs by Arizona, Yanni Hufnagel, viewed as a top recruiter, left for Vanderbilt, and Brian Adams left for Marist. On Tuesday, Amaker announced the promotion of assistant Brian DeStefano to associate head coach and the hiring of Adam Cohen and Christian Webster as assistants.
Webster, you may recall, was a senior cocaptain in 2012-13.
“We’re really excited about those guys getting opportunities to move on and move up,” Amaker said of Hufnagel and Adams, speaking by phone from the Harvard offices. “Brian obviously coming from a volunteer position here, getting a full-time paid position [at Marist]. And for Yanni, it’s a tremendous opportunity to go to Vanderbilt and the SEC.”
The moves are a clear step up the coaching ladder for both Hufnagel and Adams, and a sign that other programs value what the Crimson have accomplished.
“Selfishly you’d like to think that that’s a strong factor,” Amaker said of the program’s success leading to the turnover in the coaching staff. “At least we hope so.”
But ultimately, Amaker said, it’s about timing and finding the right opportunity at the right time for the individual.
“They’re very deserving of the opportunities,” he said. “We’ll miss them but we’re also excited about the new additions.”
Cohen, a 2008 Arizona grad who worked as a student manager under former coach Lute Olson, spent the 2012-13 season working for Ben Braun with the Rice Owls after three seasons with the USC Trojans. He started as video coordinator and ended as the director of basketball operations for USC.
“His bio speaks for itself,” Amaker said. “His background and his ability is widely known. I really respect him as a person. He’s been at a number of different places, worked for some outstanding people and to have the opportunity to bring him on board was a tremendous coup for us.”
DeStefano, who like Amaker is a Duke grad and cut his teeth under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, is entering his seventh season with the Crimson.
Webster will join the Crimson staff in a volunteer role, just as Adams before him did. Adams came to Harvard with five years of experience working for the Boston Celtics, where he was video coordinator.
All Webster has on his résumé is the success he and his teammates had in Amaker’s system. In his four seasons with the Crimson, the Washington, D.C., native was part of four 20-plus win teams, three Ivy League titles, four postseason appearances -- including NCAA tournament berths as both a junior and a senior -- and Harvard’s first NCAA tourney win, helping upset No. 3 seed New Mexico 68-62.
Asked if it will be difficult for Webster to successfully transition from player and teammate to coach and mentor just two months after graduation, Amaker said it may be.
But it’s possible, and he should know.
“He was sensitive to that,” Amaker said. “I did it, and I told him it wasn’t straight out -- I was a year between -- but it was still [coaching] players that you played with.”
Amaker joined Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke as a graduate assistant in 1988, just a year after graduating and being selected in the NBA draft by Seattle. (The SuperSonics cut Amaker shortly after drafting him, and he decided to get into coaching.)
“I’m sure it will have its moments when it will be strange when he’s trying to coach and teach and still have relationships with guys,” Amaker said. “But he’s very much respected within our program and I think that’s the key for it to work. For the players to recognize and respect him.
“If he didn’t have that, maybe it wouldn’t work. If he didn’t have that, maybe I wouldn’t want him to be a coach.”
But Amaker believes Webster, who finished his playing career as the program’s winningest player at 90-30 overall and 45-11 in the Ivy League, has what it takes to make it work.
“Being one of the more respected players that we’ve had in the program since I’ve been here, I’m thrilled that he wanted to pursue this and try this,” he said. “I’m excited as heck and thrilled and honored to continue to have Christian be a part of this.”
In fact, the head coach said he’s already planning to use Webster as a recruiting tool.
“If we’re going to talk about what we’ve done and who we are, all I have to do is point to him,” Amaker said. “I’m sure that families and parents will run to have their kids here at Harvard if they can turn out like Christian Webster.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.