Harvard's Rivard doesn't mind 'nerd' talk

March, 20, 2014
3/20/14
1:17
PM ET
Chances are if No. 12 seed Harvard does what many people (including a certain VIP who lives in a white house) are projecting it to and beats No. 5 seed Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday (2:10 p.m. ET on TNT), it’ll crop up again.

The nerd talk, that is.

It happened last season, when the Crimson (then a 14-seed) upset New Mexico (a 3-seed) in Salt Lake City.

“Talk about revenge of the nerds!” an AP story on the upset -- headlined “Revenge of the nerds: Harvard moves on at NCAAs” -- began.

That wasn’t the only reference -- far from it. Geek was suddenly chic, at least with the media.

The Crimson players were asked about it, meaning they had to assert their hoops bona fides ... immediately after the biggest win in program history. Harvard’s most famous basketball product, Jeremy Lin, said he hoped the win would start to end the “nerd, geek” talk and make people realize “even though you go to Harvard you can still hoop.”

There are worse stereotypes, to be sure. But at some level all stereotypes are offensive, since they work on presuppositions that more often than not fail to hold up to scrutiny.

Sure, the academics are more rigorous in the Ivy League than they may be in some of the power conferences. And sure, Harvard senior Laurent Rivard is a computer science major who enjoys spending time off the court writing lines of code.

But Rivard is also a two-time co-captain, the school’s all time leader in appearances (121) and made 3s (282), the latter second all time in Ivy history. He’s a worker who famously spent hours in the gym shooting after his collegiate debut ended in an 0-for-11 shooting night (including 0-for-7 on 3s) to make sure that never happened again.

So don’t call Rivard a nerd, OK?

“I like it,” he said on Selection Sunday. “I’m a computer science concentrator, so that comes around a lot. And Harvard is known for its high academic standard and before five years ago it wasn’t really known for basketball. So that’s kind of the nationwide reputation we have, just being called nerds.

“It doesn’t bug me at all.”

Well, then.

“There’s a lot of really good teams in the nation,” Rivard said. “Being called a nerd, I don’t think it’s offensive. It’s just something to distinguish us from other teams.”

But maybe, just maybe, if the Crimson pull off another upset in the Big Dance, they’ll start to be known as something more than the “smart” kids in the class.

Maybe then they’ll be known as the team no one wants to face in the NCAA’s second round.

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

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