Tommy Amaker

Sunday proves fruitful on the recruiting trail for Harvard

Leave a comment

On the heels of the most successful season in the history of the program, reaching the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season and upsetting New Mexico in the Round of 64, the Harvard Crimson are expected to build on that success in 2013-14. Point guard Siyani Chambers, shooting guard Laurent Rivard and forward Wesley Saunders are all back in Cambridge, as are veterans Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey after they had to sit out last season.

Add to those returnees a talented recruiting class and it’s clear that Tommy Amaker’s program is well-positioned to continue its run of success. Recruits have certainly noticed, with the Crimson landing verbal commitments on Sunday from 6-foot-5 shooting guard Andre Chatfield and 6-foot-9 power forward Chris Egi.

Both players made their decisions after taking official visits to Harvard this weekend, and they join 6-foot-6 wing Zach Yoshor in Harvard’s 2014 class with Sunday’s news.

Chatfield attends Norcross High School in Georgia, where he played on a team that won the Georgia Class 6A state title and finished the 2012-13 season with a 30-4 record. Egi, who attends Montverde Academy in Florida, is an four-star big man who made news in another regard Sunday: instead of remaining in the 2015 class he’s reclassified to 2014. With that news it’s difficult to blame any Harvard fans who are imagining Egi playing alongside Saunders and freshman Zena Edsomwan next season.

While Harvard will lose Casey, Curry and Rivard after the 2013-14 campaign, players such as Chambers, Edsomwan and Saunders will be back, as will forwards Steve Moundou-Missi, Kenyatta Smith and Jonah Travis.

Harvard releases 2013-14 schedule

Jonah Travis, Tommy Amaker
Leave a comment

In the most highly anticipated season in Harvard basketball history — in fact, perhaps in Ivy League history — where there is already speculation of the Crimson beginning the season ranked in the Top 25, all but winning the Ivy League, and even making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, the pressure is also at an all-time high for Tommy Amaker.

Now in his seventh season in Cambridge, Amaker has brought Harvard from the basement of the Ivy League to the top of college basketball. Whether you like it or not, Harvard will be a story for the entire season. A big part of that story obviously revolves around who they play. Earlier today, Harvard released their schedule.

It is a solid schedule as a whole with games against several good teams, but it is by no means a rigorous schedule. At first glance, there projects to only be one team ranked in the Top 25 to begin the season on it, and that is Connecticut — Colorado is on the slate as well, but they are a fringe Top 25 squad.

The preceding two teams highlight the schedule, but a home game with Boston College — a team that Harvard has beaten five straight years, if you can believe it — provides Harvard with an opportunity for a quality win as the Eagles will be much improved this year.

Where Harvard got unlucky was with the field in the Great Alaska Shootout — a tournament that has gone down in quality over the years. They play what will be a good Denver team in the opening round, but quality wins after that may be hard to come by after as the remaining six teams in the field are relatively weak, save for Indiana State (Alaska, Green Bay, Indiana State, Pepperdine, TCU, and Tulsa).

Amaker spewed nothing but coach-speak commenting on the schedule:

We are excited about the schedule we have put together for this coming year. Our non-conference schedule will provide us with many opportunities to improve as a team before beginning another competitive Ivy League campaign. We look forward to getting the season underway.

A team’s resume is everything come NCAA Tournament time, and Harvard will need schools like Denver, Vermont, and Boston University to be Top 100 RPI teams at season’s end to help bolster their resume. Wins over teams outside the Top 100 won’t exactly impress the NCAA Selection Committee.

Brandyn Curry ready to return to Harvard

Brandyn Curry
Leave a comment

Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry went through a roller coaster season as a junior.

He helped the Crimson reach its first-ever NCAA tournament. The high of that accomplishment was matched months later by the low of being caught in the middle — along with teammate Kyle Casey — in a cheating scandal. The scandal, which included 125 students, resulted in Curry and Casey being removed from campus for an entire year, watching Harvard get back to the NCAA tournament without them, and even advancing in a second round  upset over New Mexico.

In early September, Curry and Casey withdrew from the university, a move that would save their final year of eligibility. Now, with classes soon to begin, Curry is ready to return to Cambridge, Mass.

A profile, written by Jacob Feldman of the Charlotte News & Observer, which chronicles Curry’s basketball career from the rise at Hopewell High (N.C.) to a year as a life insurance salesman watching Harvard on TV, all the way to last Tuesday when he received in an email allowing him to re-enroll in Harvard.

The year removed gave Curry time to reflect and grow as a person, while he admits to struggling as a salesman and finding it difficult to watch Crimson games instead of starting in them.

Curry and Casey — who spent his year away with the 3PointFoundation — are rejoining a team that would have been the favorite to win the Ivy League without them. Tommy Amaker returns leading scorer Wesley Saunders, Curry’s successor Siyani Chambers as well as shooter Laurent Rivard and four-star power forward Zena Edosomwan.

From Feldman’s piece, Curry is eager to suit up for Harvard this fall. The former Harvard co-captains earned their way back to school and the team, and through real-world experiences over the last calendar year, could be leading to Harvard to an even more successful campagin than the one they were apart of in 2011-2012.

Summertime in the Ivy League

Leave a comment

College basketball coaches collectively rejoiced in January of 2012 when a new rule was passed stipulating that coaches would be afforded the opportunity to work with their players – including incoming freshmen – over the summer months.

As a refresher to the exact rule from the NCAA:

In men’s basketball, a student-athlete who is enrolled in summer school may engage in required weight-training, conditioning and skill-related instruction for up to eight weeks (not required to be consecutive weeks). Participation in such activities shall be limited to a maximum of eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related instruction.

Additional time spent in the gym with their teams – what coach wouldn’t be on board with this? Coaches are always itching for additional practice time with their team during the season, so having an opportunity to develop skills and review offensive and defensive systems over the summer came as a welcome surprise.

A surprise for all, except those in the Ivy League.

To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

Add Ivy League coaching staffs not working with their teams over the summer – a self-imposed rule by the league, mind you – to an already long list of items making the Ancient Eight the most unique conference in America: it’s the only conference without a postseason tournament, the only conference without scholarships, the only conference that plays league games on back-to-back nights (Friday and Saturday), and almost assuredly the only conference that will never entertain the idea of conference realignment. This is the Ivy League, and they do things differently.

While the league certainly is unique and poses inherent challenges, no coach uses it as an excuse.

“Part of it is that we have to make sure we are recruiting the right men. The Ivy League will always be an academically first league, but we are looking for guys that have a desire to play professionally and that take their craft very seriously,” Brown head men’s basketball coach Mike Martin told NBC Sports by phone.

Many in the Ivy League seem to take an “it is what it is” approach. Nobody likes it and everyone would like additional time with their players just like all other coaches are afforded.

Of course, just because the coaches aren’t in the gym, does not mean players put the ball down from June through August.

“Rafael Maia (a rising sophomore center at Brown) played over in Russia with Brazil this summer at the World University Games. Even though we, as coaches, aren’t able to work with the guys for the allotted time each week doesn’t mean that they’re not significantly improving their game,” said Martin.

Columbia head coach Kyle Smith explained to NBC Sports over the phone that he does his best to “spin” to himself how not working with his team over the summer is somehow a good thing.

“We have different animals at Columbia and in the Ivy League. My big pitch is ‘you can be good at both’ (speaking of academics and basketball) – just look at Jeremy Lin.” (Side note: Smith offered Lin a spot on the roster at St. Mary’s, but it would have been as a recruited walk-on as the Gaels did not have a scholarship available)

“As not just a basketball player, but as a student and person as a whole, part of their growth and creativity is being on their own a little bit. In fact, I tell my players — especially the freshmen — to take some time right after exams to just unwind and spend time with their families. Between schoolwork and basketball during the year, they need the breather.”

To continue the “spin,” Smith used an apt analogy to explain that even if he and his staff were working side-by-side with their players over the summer, the players still need to put in the work themselves: “It usually comes down to individual talent. You can lead a horse to water, but he has to drink it himself. Fortunately, these guys are just achievers in general.”

Smith, like Martin who graduated from Brown in 2004 and coached at Pennsylvania for six years, is an academically oriented guy himself: “As a player, I actually wanted to play in the Ivy League, but maybe I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I’ve always had an affinity for high-academic guys.”

Smith may be selling himself short as he is a graduate of Hamilton College and had a very successful career at the New York-based NESCAC school.

“When I came to Columbia from St. Mary’s in 2010, there were two things I realized: one was there are some really talented players in this league that people just don’t know about, and two, the level of coaching in this league…some of the game’s top basketball minds have coached here. I think the level of basketball knowledge helps coaches deal with some of the challenges.”

Don’t let Martin’s or Smith’s comments fool you; they — like the other six Ivy League head coaches — would welcome summer practice time with open arms.

“It’s something that of course we are hoping and pushing for. It’s a matter of speaking with the athletic directors and getting them on board, and then the presidents will have to adopt it,” Martin said.

Smith remains optimistic that the league may modify the summer practice rules in the future.

“The league takes such pride in competing at the highest level in everything they do. Look at sports like hockey and lacrosse, Yale just won the national championship in hockey. Why not basketball? I think the presidents see that you can compete at the highest level without compromising academics.”

A prime example of competing at the highest level, the Harvard administration made a concerted effort several years ago to up their level of competitiveness in basketball, and they will be a fringe Top 25 team to begin the 2013-14 season as a result. Give credit to the Crimson who have made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and knocked off third-seeded New Mexico last year.

Looking ahead, there have been many early projections that have Harvard as a team to seriously watch come March; they have the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Think Tommy Amaker would like to have some time gelling with his squad right now?

Said Smith: “Going forward, there is no reason this can’t be a two-bid league.”

You can find Kevin on twitter @KLDoyle11

VIDEO: Harvard needs OT to sweep Ivy foe Dartmouth

Siyani Chambers, Olivier Hanlan
Leave a comment

The Ivy League is so different from the rest of DI basketball. There’s the relatively low status of athletes on an Ivy campus, the Friday/Saturday double headers and the refusal to stage a post-season tournament.

Then there are artifacts like today’s game between Harvard and Dartmouth. Right now, the Crimson are 2-0 atop the league standings, and Dartmouth is dragging bottom at 0-2. What’s odd about that is that the two teams have only played one another in league play thus far. Dartmouth hosted Harvard for a ten-point loss on January 12, played non-DI foe Colby College on January 17, then traveled to Harvard for today’s 82-77 OT thriller that also ended in a loss. Barring some sort of mathematical unlikelihood that only an Ivy grad could calculate, these two schools are done with one another for the year already.

Siyani Chambers scored 21 and dished out some wicked assists, so you’ll want to take a few minutes and check out the highlights, courtesy of NBC Sports Network:

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Harvard unveils plans for new basketball arena

Tommy Amaker
1 Comment

Harvard, seeing its men’s basketball brand on the rise nationally, has unveiled plans for a new basketball arena to be completed by 2022, multiple outlets are now reporting.

“The university and the Harvard-Allston Task Force have been meeting over several months to discuss many elements of the plan,” Kevin Casey, a spokesman for Harvard, told the Boston Globe.

“We are pleased to take this important step forward in the master planning process next week and look forward to our continued discussions within the university, with the city and with our Allston neighbors.”

According to Harvard Magazine, which outlined some specifics of the plan, the arena is slated to be 60,000 square feet, housed within a four- to nine-story building that would seat close to 2,700 people.

It would be a much-needed upgrade for the Crimson, who have been playing at Ray Lavietes Pavilion since it was constructed in 1926.

The increasing visibility of the Harvard program in recent years has been for a number of reasons, both good and bad.

Last season, coach Tommy Amaker led his team to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946. In the NBA, alumnus Jeremy Lin was a breakout star for the New York Knicks.

But recent revelations of a widespread cheating scandal at the university implicated team co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who both withdrew from the school.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_