Is Harvard Officially the Evil Empire of Ivy Men's Basketball?
You have to either subscribe to ESPN the Insider or ESPN the Magazine to get the article about Harvard's recruiting efforts, which amount to trying to lure 3- and 4-star recruits to Cambridge. It's pretty amazing as to how a) Coach Tommy Amaker (who still hasn't convinced me that he is a good technical coach, as opposed to a good recruiter) can lure these kids to Cambridge, b) how so many top players are good enough students to play at Harvard and c) how the kid featured in the article said that he liked the concept of Harvard because of the possibility of making good basketball connections and going to "an Ivy." From this article, it also sounds like talent-loaded Harvard has a bunch of recruits who could be the Ivy's version of the "Fab Five" -- AAU teammates who might choose the Cantabs over bigger-time basketball schools.
Too often in my life have I run into situations that seemed too good to be true. Sure, call me a jealous hoops zealot who is lamenting the loss of the vivid Penn-Princeton rivalry and who resents Harvard as a wannabe interloper. I can assure you that's not it. I enjoyed watching the Crimson last year and marveled at the assemblage of talent. (I also think that had Sydney Johnson coached the Crimson, they wouldn't have lost a single game). It's just that it seems hard to believe that having gone 65 years without an NCAA tournament bid and without having put a very good team on the court for decades, that all of a sudden perhaps dozens of top-notch recruits are considering Harvard over scholarship schools with good academics and traditional Ivy basketball titans Penn and Princeton, not to mention recent superpower Cornell, which had about as good a three-year run of any Ivy team in a long time.
I recall talking to a Princeton assistant about six, seven years about a top 100 recruit who had a connection to Princeton. The kid was considering Duke (he eventually went there), but word came through that he was interested in Princeton. The recruit went to the school for a visit, but he ultimately chose Duke. Commented the assistant, "We always lose kids when we go up against Stanford, Duke and schools like that." I'm sure that Penn probably would say the same thing. Yes, the schools get good recruits, but increasingly over the years both Penn and Princeton have lost players to schools that somehow Harvard is now competing against and perhaps winning.
What gives? It's not that Harvard has a winning tradition (it doesn't). It's not that Harvard has a great facility (it doesn't). It's not that Harvard has an outstanding coach (Amaker didn't do well at either Seton Hall or Michigan, and while he's recruited well at Harvard he hasn't won a title yet, although with the talent he has he should mail it in and win a title this year). Sure, Harvard has a huge name, but since when has the huge name simply been enough? Especially when you have schools with storied programs in your conference.
Something just doesn't seem to add up. It could be that Harvard finally has gotten it's men's hoops' act together and corralled the optimal combination of hoops talent that can qualify for Harvard. If so, congratulations for catching lightning in a bottle or something like that. Go on-line if you subscribe to ESPN the Insider or buy the magazine and see what you think. Is it newly found brilliance on the Charles River, or something else? And, if so, what?
Any way you slice it, Harvard is certainly defining itself as the team to beat (perhaps for years) in the Ivies. They'll still have to beat archival Yale (which has a good team this season) and take on Penn and Princeton on back-to-back nights twice this season. That's a tough challenge whether you have three- or four-star recruits -- or not.