Following our countdown of the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s men’s basketball history this summer, Ivy Hoops Online is delighted to continue celebrating the 60th anniversary of modern Ivy League basketball by honoring the top 60 players in Ivy hoops history (in no particular order). For the next entry in our Ivy 60 for 60 series, we focus on Wesley Saunders, one of the greatest players in Harvard basketball history…
A year ago, I argued that Wesley Saunders was the greatest Harvard player of all-time. Therefore it’s no surprise that Saunders is one of the top-60 Ivy League players of all-time. Here’s why he belongs:
Many dynamic players have put on the Crimson uniform since the program’s inception in 1900 (that year, Harvard went 11-8, including a dramatic 11-9 win over Columbia). Saunders is unique, however: He won four Ivy titles, was a part of Harvard’s first four NCAA Tournament appearances in program history and led the Crimson in scoring during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He was a three-time All-Ivy selection and a unanimous selection twice. Saunders also owned the record for most Ivy Player of the Week Awards (11) when he graduated (Yale’s Justin Sears has since broken that record). Saunders also won a game in the NCAA Tournament two of the three years he led his team there.
In terms of the Harvard record books, Saunders ranks fourth all-time in scoring (1,511), fourth all-time in steals (175), and just outside the top eight in assists with 382. (Harvard’s record books only list the top eight all-time assist-getters, but Saunders is only nine assists away from the top eight.) He is also third in games played with 120.
Saunders wasn’t just great; he was great in big games. Here’s how I described his “clutch gene” in an article last year:
In must-win games where Saunders played more than 20 minutes (NCAA Tournament games, along with this year’s one-game playoff vs. Yale), he averaged 17.7 points per game. If Harvard’s 2012 loss to Arizona in the third round of the tournament is excluded, Saunders’ scoring average rises to 19.2 points per game in must-win contests, four more than his scoring average over his last three seasons. Although he was honored with only one Ivy League Player of the Year award, Saunders dominated the Ivy League from 2012 to 2015. He was also (arguably) the best player on the court when the Crimson took on Michael Jordan’s alma mater, ACC powerhouse North Carolina. Tar Heels guard J.P. Tokoto certainly thought so, placing him among “the top five” players he had guarded all season (and Tokoto guarded players like Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison, Virginia’s Justin Anderson, Louisville’s Terry Rozier, Duke’s Justise Winslow and Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant).
It is unclear whether or not we will ever see another Harvard player who could dominate the game in every way like Saunders – scoring, defense and creating for others – but one thing’s for sure: every Harvard player who follows in Saunders’ footsteps will be reaping the benefits of the path that he (and many other recently graduated players) paved for the future of Harvard basketball. Saunders was clearly a star on the court, but he was also a Harvard basketball revolutionary who never knew what it felt like to not win the Ivy League title, and this elevates him to the level of true “greatness.”