This is The Moment for Harvard basketball. Maybe the only moment.
The Crimson’s window to truly run with the nation’s perennial hoops monsters may be open for a painfully short span – this season and possibly the three following. Harvard is a legit top-25 threat now and could soar even higher in 2012.
They are revved by a potent-offense that relies on actual talent and grit – plus lots of three balls – not just back-screen trickery (ala Princeton of days gone by). At the Battle 4 Atlantis, expect them to give Florida State a real grind. But away from the court, Harvard faces newly tightened academic rules that threaten to snuff the fruitful recruiting pipeline opened by coach Tommy Amaker since his 2007 arrival.
This past summer, the chiefs of the Ivy League decided the time had come to bump up the conference’s already-stringent academic index. The school presidents clamped down on the caliber of student-athletes who can qualify for and earn admission to Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and the rest of the brainy, northeastern pack.
In four years, the fiery yet studious Amaker has lured a gushing stream of ballers, smart enough to handle Harvard’s classroom rigors. Seniors Keith Wright, Oliver McNally and junior Kyle Casey are the leading scorers. The roster is young, though: five juniors, three sophomores and seven freshmen.
Almost like Amaker wanted to stock the shelves before the academic index got cranked even higher. “We ‘re trying to attact the best kids, the best students, the best players. And we’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that thus far,” Amaker says.
But he admits the new academic standards across the Ivy League will, indeed, shrink the possible pool of bball recruits.
“It certainly doesn’t make it easier. It makes it a little more difficult. But it’s across the board. It’s fair for everyone. We (in the Ivy League) are all going to make adjustments just like we have every time they’ve made any adjustments to the adacmic index in our conference,” Amaker said.
So is this magical span – this era when Harvard has scratched its way into the elite club of NCAA powerhouses – about to end? Or will it end after the current crop of Crimson freshmen graduate?
“I haven’t thought of it that way at all,” Amaker said. “I think we’ll be able to find the youngersters that fit the profile of our institution … I don’t think a few (grade-index) numbers here and there are going to change what we’re trying to do at Harvard. So no, I don’t look at it as a window being narrower. I look at it (like) we have a great instiition and hopefully we’re going attact kids who see this as a great opportunity.”
For now, the opportunity is definitely there. Harvard has started 4-0 and finished with 20-plus wins in each of the past two seasons. When Amaker arrived in at the hallowed school, he inherited a team that posted an 8-22 record in his first year. Crimson fans don’t want those dark days to return – even if they can hold their heads even higher about their rugged academic rules.
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