Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
One of the best things in the game of basketball is when players allow themselves to be taught by the men on the sidelines. A player can have all the tools, but they still need that coach to simply do just that, coach them and coach them the right way.
A player is bound to learn plenty of great basketball tutelage at Harvard University. They’re bound to learn “Hoops 101: The Ivy League Version,” from Tommy Amaker, the longtime coach of the Crimson.
Amaker is one of the best coaches in college basketball and a disciple of Mike Kryzewski, the legendary coach at Duke University, as he played for the Blue Devils from 1983-1987 and was an assistant there for a period of nine years (1988-1997), before taking the head coaching job at Seton Hall in 1997.
In his coaching career, Amaker has amassed a 392-262 record and has been to five NCAA Tournaments with three schools (Seton Hall, Michigan and Harvard) and won an NIT championship with the Wolverines in 2014. In his twelve seasons as head coach of the Crimson, he has been successful, as he has a 221-122 record with four NCAA Tournament appearances, a CIT Tournament appearance and an NIT appearance.
This season, the Crimson finished tied for first with Yale in Ivy League play with a 10-4 record, but also had a 17-10 overall record. Last week, at Levien Gymnasium on the campus of Columbia University in Harlem, they went to overtime with the Lions before coming out victorious, with an 83-81 win, and their share of the Ivy League regular-season championship.
“I’m so proud of our guys for finding a way, again, against an amazing team that we had to battle with in two games this season, overtime game, big shots, heartbreaking loss, thrilling victory, and for us to be able to do it, on the road, and win the Ivy League championship in the regular season, I’m at a loss for words for what these guys have been able to do to make it happen after a loss last night [to Cornell] that we were so disappointed in. But now, to be able to do it, and be able to say we’re Ivy League [regular-season] champions back-to-back, I’m really proud of what these kids have done,” said Amaker of his team.
When asked if he felt if the non-conference schedule, which included games against Northeasterm, North Carolina, Vermont, Rhode Island and Saint Mary’s, helped the Crimson with their Ivy League schedule, Amaker replied, “You know, I like to think that when we schedule, sometimes we feel if we can survive our non-conference schedule, can it help us with the Ivy League schedule? But I do think, obviously a lot of different things, will show some benefit for how we’re ready to win this league this year, and that could be one of the reasons why.”
The Crimson are a very talented team. One of the reasons for that is the play of 6-foot junior point guard Bryce Aiken, who is averaging 21.8 points through 14 games after coming back from injury on January 21stagainst Howard. This season, he has had seven games in which he has scored more 20 or more points and at three games in which he has scored 30 or more points. Two of his best games came against Columbia, as he scored 44 points against them on February 8thin a 98-96 win in triple-overtime at Lavietes Pavilion and then 36 points last Saturday on the road.
Other contributors for the Crimson are 6-foot-9 junior forward Chris Lewis, who is averaging 10.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Then there is 6-foot-7 freshman shooting guard Noah Kirkwood, who is averaging 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds, and 6-foot-5 freshman shooting guard Justin Bassey, whio is averaging 9.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Lastly, there is 6-foot-2 junior point guard Christian Juzang (8.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists) and 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Danilo Djurcic (6.5 points and 4.1 rebounds).
In the Columbia game last weekend, both Aiken and Kirkwood scored 60% of the team’s points, which contributed to the win. When asked about their respective performances in that game, Amaker replied, “Well, I’m saying this, I expect it from Bryce, and I expect Noah to be a very good player, but to be on the road in this kind of environment, in this kind of stage in this kind of setting, I mean the two free throws you have to make, you know, for us to be able to tie it up. It’s an amazing accomplishment for our team, and Noah Kirkwood with his efforts there.”
Tomorrow, the Crimson will be playing in the first game of the four-team Ivy League Tournament against Penn at 12:30 PM at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, Connecticut. If they win that, they will meet the winner of the Yale-Princeton semifinal game on Sunday. And if they win that, they will be the last Ivy team standing, and will punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Tomorrow is a new season for the Crimson. After that won’t be promised, as far as the season. If they lose, there won’t be another tomorrow. Anything they do in the game to preserve their season will be huge and monumental. Of course, if they win the tournament, it will be the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in Amaker’s tenure (sixth overall in his career, including the 1999-2000 season with Seton Hall). All it takes is two successful games, and the fans on the Harvard campus is Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be buzzing. But then again, it all starts with tomorrow.