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.