The Wait Is Over for Harvard

The undisputed Ivy League champions of the world. (Photo credit:

When the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, the message board Sons of Sam Horn had a thread entitled “Win It For” on which thousands

of posters listed the people for whom they wanted Boston to break the Curse. Unfortunately, I’m not the person to enumerate all of the deserving Harvard faithful. I’m too young to reach back that far in history, and even if I could, I’d be confronted by the relative poverty of the Crimson’s basketball tradition.

Still, I know this team. And the deeply satisfying part of earning the Ivy’s NCAA bid is not earning a ticket to the

Dance for the first time since 1946; it”s this team making that bit of history.

Last year I watched as Oliver McNally had to be removed from the one-game playoff’s press conference in a state of catatonic shock. The room cringed as he was literally left speechless by Princeton’s buzzer beater, gaping for answers to explain his team’s shocking loss. And McNally was the only player composed enough to face the media. To see that team’s broken heart was to understand how much an NCAA bid would mean to them.

The pain of 2011 fundamentally changed coach Tommy Amaker’s squad. Consider this: coming off the best season in program history with basically the same roster (excepting this year’s freshmen), Harvard totally transformed its identity. It went from a 50th-ranked offense and 150th-ranked defense to a 70th-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense. This change meant fewer touches on the offensive end of the floor and more work at the defensive end for All-Ivy candidates like Keith Wright, Kyle Casey, and Brandyn Curry. That willingness to adapt despite the previous season’s success was a testament to the Crimson’s hunger.

Their motivation bred results early, with an 8-0 start and Top 25 ranking, and those results in turn bred expectations. At times Harvard wobbled a bit under the burden—their struggles at the start of January included a bad loss to Fordham and they dropped two of their biggest Ivy games against Princeton and Penn. Skeptics looked on eagerly for signs of another collapse. But this time Harvard didn’t wilt. There was too much at stake. With McNally and Wright graduating (not to mention the yearly courting of Amaker), this year might well have been the Crimson’s last best shot. But it wasn”t simply the stakes. Just like 2011 changed the Crimson’s play on the court, I like to think that it also changed something inside of them. They could dig a little deeper, go to a place a little darker than any of their opponents could reach. Two-point-eight seconds.

After last night’s game, Wright could be heard screaming at the top of his lungs as he ran around Harvard Square. These players invest so much in their dreams that it’s downright heartbreaking when prayers go unanswered for someone like Zack Rosen and it’s positively uplifting when hopes are realized for someone like Wright. That’s why I’m so happy for this team. The long and winding road that brought them here had some incredible peaks and some unspeakable valleys, but after all those years it’s finally arrived. I’m just grateful I could watch the ride.

6 thoughts on “The Wait Is Over for Harvard”

  1. I commend you on an extremely eloquent article Mr. Banks. The AQ was young once and can tell you that there is indeed nothing for beautiful than the fulfillment of a youthful dreams. What I have written over the season notwithstanding, I do not begrudge McNally, Wright, Casey and their teammates this hard fought victory. They’ve all worked hard and sacrificed much to earn it. However it is the architects of these dreams, the dream weavers if you will, that I take issue with. As for Coach Amaker, when the courting does start I hope for The League, and other hard working young men across The Ancient Eight, that he will say “yes.” For he has already shone his true colors and despite what you think, they are not Crimson.

    The AQ

    • I commend you, The Ancient Quaker, on an eloquent post. Thank you for recognizing who are the true heroes of the Ivy League, and who has significantly changed its identity for the worse…

  2. McNally was catatonic after last year’s playoff in part because he blamed himself for being faked off his feet when Davis gave him a pump move. He said as much during the press conference.

    I think that McNally did the right thing by biting on the fake. With only 2.8 seconds on the clock, his job isn’t to stay with Davis per se, it’s to stay with him for 2.8 seconds. By jumping as McNally did, Davis had to wait for McNally to start his descent and actually take a half-step to his left. Any jump shot where the shooter is moving laterally at the start of his jump is very difficult.

    As it turns out, Davis stabilized his leftward movement, jumped clear of McNally and got the ball out of his hand with about 0.2 showing on the clock. That’s a lot of things that had to go right for Davis.

    McNally made the best play possible on the last shot. Not only was he not the goat of the play, he came very, very close to being the hero.

  3. AQ (Are you William Penn?), my prediction is that Amaker isn’t leaving, so the rest of us will eagerly await your annual lecture on Ancient Eight morality.

    • I, too, can see Amaker staying at Harvard for a long time. At both Seton Hall and Michigan, he was a very effective recruiter who had difficulty translating top-rated recruiting classes into NCAA bids. (In fairness to the man, his one NCAA bid did lead to a Sweet Sixteen berth.)

      Why not stay in the one league in America where his conference competitors have a specific limitation on their recruiting? This allows him to maximize his obvious gifts for recruiting.

      In the Ivy League, he will likely be in contention for an NCAA bid every year going forward whereas moving back to a BCS conference will put more pressure on the weaknesses in game-day management which hindered him at Seton Hall and Michigan.

  4. It is precisely because of “what I have written over the season” that one can only conclude that the AQ does indeed “begrudge” the title reposing in Cambridge. Anonymous takes the argument a step further, inferring that the championship has been hijacked by unworthy defilers of the “identity” of the Ivy League. Do I detect just a smidgen of sour grapes here? I congratulate Harvard for its accomplishment. I congratulate Zack Rosen for his unanimous and richly deserved selection as POY. And, of course, to Princeton’s Ian Hummer, the other unanimous First Team selection, I say “Thank You” on behalf of the Tiger faithful. The 2013 season should be just as exciting, considering the returning stars throughout the League and the annual influx of talented freshmen, many of whom will exceed the minimum AI standards established by the League. I shall miss you, AQ. (I must share this one with you. Just before the second half got underway on Tuesday an Ancient Tiger sitting in the row ahead of me hit the deck, evidently stressed to the breaking point by the Quakers’ closing run, which had a “Rosen is here now” feel. Fortunately, he was able to make it to the summoned ambulance under his own power. I learned subsequently he is a member of the Class of 1944!!!)

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