Tommy Amaker Continues To Build The Brand Of Harvard Basketball

As a kid, I always used to attend Harvard athletic events with my dad. He graduated from Harvard in 1983 and was a big fan during his time in college and carried it with him out of college. We used to attend football games every year, and the occasional Crimson basketball game which usually ended with a Harvard loss, but they were still fun.

However, when Tommy Amaker was hired as head coach at Harvard in 2007, he brought some interest to the program as a big name hire – but nobody really knew what to expect because Harvard had never been good at basketball. Amaker came in and started to turn things around, particularly last season when the Crimson finished with a then program-record 21 wins and saw star guard Jeremy Lin make it to the NBA. Since I grew up following Harvard basketball, I proposed doing one of “The Pitch” pieces with Amaker this summer, and after the interview I came away really impressed.

During the interview, Amaker laid out his vision for Harvard Basketball. He talked about the excitement he gets from doing things that have never been done before at Harvard, one of the prestigious colleges in the entire world. He said walking around campus there weren’t many things you could find that Harvard had not accomplished, but having a winning basketball program was one of those things. One of the terms he used most frequently was “building the brand of Harvard Basketball.” When he said that, he meant he wanted the basketball team to epitomize the greater Harvard community. Harvard wanted to be the best in academics, research, and other areas, and why should the basketball program be any different? He also focused on attracting kids to Harvard who wanted to do something different, and wanted to establish their own legacy at a non-traditional basketball school while getting a world-class education. Now, after Saturday’s win over Princeton clinching Harvard at least a share of the Ivy League title, Amaker’s brand is becoming more recognizable.

Saturday’s game was broadcast on ESPN3.com, something rare for an Ivy League contest, and pretty much unheard of at Harvard. Their home arena, Lavietes Pavilion, was sold out, and after the victory the students stormed the court to celebrate. Competing for the Crimson were the type of players Amaker talked about recruiting – guys that could have gone elsewhere, but wanted the opportunity to build the tradition of Harvard Basketball. Chief among them was local product, Kyle Casey. Casey was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season, and sought after by many schools with richer basketball traditions, but Casey chose to stay close to home.

“Harvard academics are Harvard academics,” Casey told The Boston Globe at the time of his commitment. “I had a lot of schools looking at me. But Harvard expressed the most interest, they came to the most games to watch me. I just had a great relationship with coach [Will] Wade, coach [Brian] DeStefano and later Tommy Amaker. That was a huge contributor to my decision.”

That type of desire to go to a school with high academic standards, and buying into Amaker and his staff’s vision for the basketball program, are exactly what Amaker told me he was looking for when recruiting kids to play for him. Casey is just the most prominent player on the team to turn down bigger schools for Harvard. Point guard Brandyn Curry had 10 points and 10 assists against Princeton, and chose Harvard over Stanford. On Twitter yesterday, Curry, leading scorer Keith Wright, and other players tweeted about making history and how amazing that feeling was to do something nobody had ever done before at Harvard. Those players bought into Amaker’s vision during their recruitment, and now they are turning his vision into reality. And loving every minute of it.

What do you think? Where do you see the future of Harvard Basketball?

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