As part of its quest to become a legitimate college basketball destination, Harvard held the inaugural “Crimson Madness” to kick off its season on Saturday. I had been hoping for an event like this for the last couple of years, but I was skeptical that the program could pull it off. Considering Harvard’s frequently apathetic student body, I was afraid that Lavietes Pavilion would be mostly empty with an awkward, party-that-nobody-showed-up-to vibe. Fortunately for Tommy Amaker, Crimson Madness exceeded expectations.
The staff deserves a lot of credit for making the event work. They slated it for after the Harvard-Bucknell football game to capture the departing crowd, they invited student groups to perform, and they incorporated the banner-raising ceremony into the festivities. The building wasn’t quite filled (maybe three-quarters full), the atmosphere wasn’t exactly fever-pitched (fans didn’t know who to root for in the scrimmage), and the play wasn’t always watchable (both sides struggled with shooting and turnovers), but students and locals turned out and a residual optimism from the spring was palpable.
It’s foolish to read too much into an hour-long practice, but Crimson Madness provided a first glimpse into the 2011-12 Ivy League favorites. Keith Wright and Brandyn Curry dominated the scrimmage, accounting for 29 of the crimson team’s 40 points. Putting on an aerial display in warm-ups, Kyle Casey looked totally recuperated from foot surgery in the spring. The freshmen too—Saunders, Moundou-Missi, Smith, Travis—really threw it down during lay-up lines, though they struggled on both ends in the scrimmage. Ugo Okam (who, frankly, I had discounted entirely after an unimpressive rookie year) showed much improved dexterity around the rim. No one shot very well, as Max Hooper hit the only three-pointer in the entire 20-minute game. Kenyatta Smith was sporting an awful pubescent mustache.
Generally, play was sloppy, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. Crimson Madness had nothing to do with the team’s performance; it was more of a gauge on the basketball squad’s relevance within the Harvard, as well as the local, community. In that sense, the event was a resounding success, and I fully expect to see it return in the coming seasons.