Sunday, March 17, 2013
Harvard relishes another Selection Sunday
By Jack McCluskey
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- It was a day of celebration, of continuing a tradition passed down from one generation to the next.
A day to wear the bright color so closely associated with the group of people being honored.
Oh, and it was also St. Patrick's Day.
In Cambridge on Sunday, the crimson-clad Harvard faithful gathered for what is fast becoming an annual event: A viewing party in the Murr Center's Hall of History for the NCAA tournament selection show.
Making the NCAA tournament for a second straight year, particularly with the inexperience of his team, means a lot, said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.
For the second straight year, Tommy Amaker's team assembled before flat screen TVs, velvet ropes setting them off from the crowd, to see who and where they would play in the postseason.
There were a few anxious moments, the crowd letting out an audible sigh of relief when No. 2 seed Ohio State was matched with No. 15 seed Iona in the Dayton regional, as the names were called and the brackets filled up. And then there was a roar.
After landing a No. 14 seed and a matchup with No. 3 seed New Mexico in Salt Lake City, the Crimson and their fans let loose. It had been a long 30 minutes, but now they knew who their dancing partner would be.
A few minutes later, the Crimson talked about what this accomplishment means to them, considering all they’ve been through this season.
“We’re proud to have an opportunity to represent our conference and our institution,” Amaker said. “I can’t say enough about these guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish this year.”
After going 65 years between its first NCAA appearance and its second, Harvard now has made two in a row -- and if not for a Princeton buzzer-beater in an Ivy League playoff game in 2011, the streak would be at three.
This season's success might be the most surprising. Amaker lost his two would-be senior captains, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, to an academic cheating scandal prior to the season; both withdrew from school to preserve their eligibility while the process works its way out. Combined with the graduation of four-year vets Oliver McNally and Keith Wright, the mantle was left on the shoulders of youngsters such as Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers.
In the preseason, Harvard was picked to finish third in the Ivy League. Then conference play began, and the Crimson proved they were still a force to be reckoned with in the Ancient Eight. Until a late-season hiccup (back-to-back losses at Princeton and Penn) threw a wrench into the machine, it seemed the young Crimson were headed for a wire-to-wire Ivy win. But rather than wallow in self-pity after the bad weekend, the Crimson came home and took care of business against Columbia and Cornell (and got help from Princeton, which lost at Yale and at Brown) to seal the Ivy title and NCAA berth.
“I think it means a lot,” Amaker said of making back-to-back tournaments, despite the change in leadership on the court. “For us to have our name called on Selection Sunday, it’s very meaningful. I think it’s certainly something I’m sure that will sink in with us at some point, but we certainly know it’s taken a lot to get to this point.
“We’re proud of it, we were proud last year. And if you can continually become a contender in your conference -- and certainly we’ve been fortunate to win it now for three years and two years to be involved in the NCAA tournament -- I just think it’s an incredibly impressive few years for Harvard basketball.”
For Christian Webster, a co-captain and Harvard’s lone senior, this berth meant even more than last season’s did.
“I’d say so,” Webster said. “Just overcoming all the adversity we had to go through this season -- that’s one of the greatest feelings you can ever have, is overcoming adversity. And us being able to get to this point, with no one thinking we can get here -- it’s just an awesome feeling.”
For the second straight season, the Crimson are headed west for the Big Dance. Last season the Crimson, a No. 12 seed, flew to Albuquerque, N.M., to take on No. 5 seed Vanderbilt.
In the immediate aftermath of the selection show, the Crimson said they didn’t know much about the Lobos (29-5, Mountain West champions). Most of the players at the post-show news conference have never been to Utah (Laurent Rivard said he had, but not since the sixth grade).
They’re not sure when they’ll be leaving for Salt Lake City; plans might be complicated by an approaching winter storm.
But as Amaker said, these are the problems they were hoping to have. And on Sunday night, they were just happy to be back in this position for another year, with another group.
“With the youth of our team, the way these guys have responded -- accepting different roles, stepping forward, young guys stepping in,” Amaker said. “You can’t say enough about what this team has done for this season.”
This Harvard team has done enough to ensure that its season isn’t done quite yet.
There’s still dancing to do.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.