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. Three-star guard becomes Baylor’s fifth 2015 commitment

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Scott Drew AP

    Of Baylor’s five verbal commitments in the Class of 2015 four are guards, including their latest commit.

  2. Syracuse, NCAA Committee on Infractions meeting set for October 30-31

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT

    Jim Boeheim AP

    Syracuse’s men’s basketball and football programs are under investigation, with the stakes being higher for Jim Boeheim’s program.

  3. Georgetown’s senior center looking to rebound from ‘embarrassing’ 2013-14 season

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT

    Moses Ayegba, Joshua Smith Moses Ayegba, Joshua Smith

    Joshua Smith averaged 11.5 points per game before being ruled academically ineligible last season.

  4. Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did

    Oct 23, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT

    Cameron Payne (AP Photo) Cameron Payne (AP Photo)

    Cam Payne became the star of Murray State as a freshman, but he wouldn’t have gotten there if he had a back up. Why?

  5. VCU announces addition of 17-year old Morgan Vega to basketball program (VIDEO)

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:53 PM EDT

    Shaka Smart Shaka Smart

    The preseason favorites to win the Atlantic 10 added a new teammate Thursday.

  6. Junior guard decides to leave Charlotte program

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT

    Demetrius Pollard, Shawn Lester Demetrius Pollard, Shawn Lester

    Shawn Lester averaged 11.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the sixth man role last season.

  7. Iowa State guard to undergo surgery on both hips

    Oct 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    Hallice Cooke AP

    Hallice Cooke will have one hip operated on Monday, with the second surgery coming four weeks later.

  8. Three-star small forward becomes Oklahoma’s third 2015 commitment

    Oct 23, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT

    Lon Kruger AP

    Christian James joins Rashard Odomes and Akolda Manyang in Oklahoma’s 2015 haul.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.