Skip to content

How Harvard went from a laughing stock to a Cinderella

Mar 22, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT

Harvard guard Saunders takes a shot while defended by New Mexico center Kirk during the second half of their second round NCAA tournament basketball game in Salt Lake City, Utah

On Thursday night, Harvard won their first-ever NCAA tournament game in their second NCAA tournament appearance since 1946. That’s impressive, especially when you consider the fact that, when head coach Tommy Amaker took over the program, Harvard basketball was a joke. They had never won a conference title or 20 games in a season. In fact, they had only won more than 10 Ivy League games twice.

Now consider this: Harvard won the Ivy League and knocked off New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA tournament despite the fact that a) two starters from last year’s team graduated, and b) two more starters from last season, and arguably their two most important players heading into this season, were suspended for the year due to an academic scandal at the school.

In other words, Harvard just won their first NCAA tournament game despite the fact that they lost their four best players off of last year’s team.

So what happened?

It’s simple, really. Harvard has been able to recruit at an unprecedented level for an Ivy League program. They are bringing in kids that are on top 100 lists. They are beating out Big Ten and Big East schools for recruits. And they’re doing it, believe it or not, by selling a Harvard degree.

Back in the summer of 2011, I wrote a fairly in-depth feature for my old site about Harvard’s recruiting and how they were have been able to reel in so much high-major caliber talent. The short version is this: Harvard goes out and identifies all of the talented recruits that they know a) have the grades to get into an Ivy League school and b) care enough about an education that they will consider a school like Harvard over someone in the ACC or the Pac-12. And then the Crimson sell their pitch as well as any program you’ll come across: come here and you can play in NCAA tournaments (see: the last two years) and make the NBA (see: Jeremy Lin), and when you graduate, you’ll have the single most valuable degree that money can buy.

To quote assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel, “Harvard’s not a four year decision, it’s a 40 year decision.”

Obviously, it’s worked. According to his Rivals page, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers was being recruited by Nebraska, Georgia Tech, St. Louis and Washington State. Wesley Saunders, a sophomore leading the team in scoring, was a top 100 recruit with offers from Colorado, USC and San Diego State, per Rivals. 2013 commit Zena Edosomwan was recruited by every school in the Pac-12, including the likes of UCLA, Arizona and Gonzaga.

How do you survive the loss of four starters? Have an absurd amount of talent stockpiled on your roster.

Harvard’s emergence is not without controversy, however.

Ivy League schools aren’t enthralled about the idea that the Crimson are able to recruit at this level. They believe that Harvard has reduced their standards for admission. They aren’t breaking any rules doing so — any recruit enrolling at an Ivy League school needs a minimum score on the Academic Index to enroll — but the thinking is that instead of requiring their basketball players to adhere to a higher standard, Harvard is letting hoopers with the minimum AI into their program.

Regardless of whether or not you take issue with it, that’s how the Crimson were able to go from the laughing stock of the Ivy League to the NCAA tournament’s Cinderella story in just five short years.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Latest Posts
  1. 2014-15 Season Preview: The Top 20 Perimeter Attacks

    Oct 23, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson AP

    Who are the top 20 perimeters in the country this season?

  2. UNC AD Bubba Cunningham joins Dan Patrick to discuss the academic scandal (VIDEO)

    Oct 23, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT

    (AP Photo) (AP Photo)

    This scandal will be a stain on North Carolina’s sports and academic programs for a long time.

  3. Throwback Thursday: Dahntay Jones dunks, does pushups on defender (VIDEO)

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 11.05.30 AM

    This is about as embarrassing as being POSTERIZED can get.

  4. Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Wichita State

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

    Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Cleanthony Early

    The Shockers went to the Final Four in 2013 and undefeated in 2014. What is next for them?

  5. South Dakota State’s Cody Larson thrives despite return home amidst unmet expectations

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:46 PM EDT

    Cody Larson (AP Photo) Cody Larson (AP Photo)

    Cody Larson was South Dakotas Next Big Thing. He returned in infamy, but that has not stopped him from succeeding.

  6. Wisconsin raises more than $276,000 for cancer research

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT

    Bo Ryan Bo Ryan

    Wisconsin held its third annual “Shooting Down Cancer” event Wednesday, with their goal being to #MakeBoPay.

  7. Two Memphis players to miss practice time for health reasons

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:13 PM EDT

    Austin Nichols AP

    Austin Nichols is the reigning American Athletic Conference ROY, and sophomore Avery Woodson is expected to compete for minutes in a crowded by inexperienced backcourt.

  8. Fresno State guard knocks down five straight half-court shots (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT

    Cezar Guerrero Cezar Guerrero

    Cezar Guerrero knocked down five straight from half-court during the team’s Red and White Hoops Night event Tuesday.

  9. Newcomer’s knee issue stretches Oregon’s thin rotation even further

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    altman AP

    Oregon didn’t have much depth to begin with due to various personnel issues, so Michael Chandler’s lingering knee problem is a major concern.

  10. Bruce Pearl invades marketing class to promote ‘Pearl Jam’ (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    People don’t come more intense than Bruce Pearl.

  11. Three-star guard commits to SMU, reclassifies to 2016

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT

    Larry Brown Larry Brown

    Given SMU’s depth on the perimeter, LaGerald Vick’s decision to move back in classes will help both parties in the future.

  12. 2014-15 Season Preview: 20 Impact Freshmen

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT

    Justin Jackson (left) and Jahlil Okafor (right) at the McDonald's All-American Game Justin Jackson (left) and Jahlil Okafor (right) at the McDonald's All-American Game

    College basketball will have plenty of impact freshmen this season. Here’s a look at some that could step in and contribute right away.

  13. Report: Texas plans to start paying their athletes $10,000 stipend

    Oct 22, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT

    Rick Barnes AP

    The Longhorns are the first school in the country to do this.

  14. Stanford lands a commitment from four-star seven-footer

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT

    dawkins Getty Images

    The Cardinal now have three four-star recruits in the Class of 2015.

  15. UNC investigation states bogus classes pushed by academic counselors to athletes

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    Roy Williams Getty Images

    Wednesday’s report is much more damning than either of the previous two that have been released.

  16. SEC preseason media poll and all-SEC team announced

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    SEClogo

    There is one big name that wasn’t named to the preseason first team.

  17. 2014-2015 Season Preview: NDSU, SDSU take step back in Summit League hierarchy

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Scott Sutton (AP Photo) Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

    The top half of the Summit League will be a tight race all season long.

  18. The Big East releases their preseason poll, all-league teams

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    BigEastLogo

    The Big East coaches love Villanova, but are they sleeping on Marquette?