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. Kansas, Indiana on opposite sides of 2015 Maui Invitational bracket

    Jul 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Potentially four top-25 teams will be in the 2015 field.

  2. Colorado State’s Antwan Scott granted sixth year of eligibility

    Jul 27, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT

    Grambling State Grambling State

    Scott averaged 15.7 points per game for Grambling during the 2013-14 season.

  3. Nik Stauskas trolls Ohio State fans, claims Thad Matta didn’t know who he was (PHOTO)

    Jul 27, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The former Big Ten Player of the Year (inaccurately) trolls Ohio State fans

  4. Top two 2017 recruit Michael Porter Jr. dunks all weekend (VIDEO)

    Jul 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 10.29.28 AM

    It’s pretty obvious why people like Porter.

  5. Highlights of Wenyen Gabriel, who’s been offered by Kentucky, Duke (VIDEOS)

    Jul 27, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.15.47 PM

    Gabriel was the biggest stock riser for the month.

  6. Ron Baker was the best college player for Team USA at Pan-Am Games

    Jul 27, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT

    baker Getty Images

    Denzel Valentine and Taurean Waller-Prince also played well in stretches.

  7. Ole Miss star guard arrested for DUI over the weekend

    Jul 27, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Stefan Moody was the leading scorer last season for Ole Miss.

  8. Jamal Murray’s Pan-Am Games highlights (VIDEO)

    Jul 27, 2015, 9:39 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The hype surrounding Murray as a prospect has never been higher.

  9. Wichita State forward working hard to improve offensive repertoire

    Jul 26, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT

    wichstkelly Getty Images

    Rashard Kelly averaged just 2.9 points per game last season. With Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton gone, he’ll need to do more in 2015-16.

  10. Following acquittal, Rick Brunson discusses son Jalen’s recruitment to Villanova

    Jul 26, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT

    Jalen Brunson AP

    Villanova had been Jalen’s favorite for a long time according to his father Rick.

  11. Former Memphis forward Austin Nichols transferring to Virginia

    Jul 26, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT

    Austin Nichols (AP Photo) Austin Nichols (AP Photo)

    Nichols picked Memphis over Virginia the first time around, and once the Tigers dropped their transfer restrictions many expected him to land in Charlottesville.

  12. Four-star Class of 2016 guard Zach Norvell scores 53 points, drops 14 3-pointers in Las Vegas (VIDEO)

    Jul 26, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT

    Jon Lopez/Nike Jon Lopez/Nike

    Chicago native Zach Norvell had one of the best games of the July live evaluation period on Saturday night by scoring 53 points and knocking down 14 3-pointers.

  13. Devonte’ Graham dunks on a kid at Kansas basketball camp (VIDEO)

    Jul 26, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Devonte Graham AP

    The lesson here is don’t smack talk Devonte’ Graham if he’s your camp counselor.

  14. United States wins bronze at Pan-Am Games

    Jul 25, 2015, 5:46 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Ron Baker and Taurean Waller-Prince played well for the Americans.

  15. UMass commit Unique McLean wins dunk contest with ridiculous under-the-legs finish (VIDEO)

    Jul 25, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    unique

    UMass commit Unique McLean threw down a ridiculous dunk contest slam in front of a sea of people.

  16. 2016 small forward Lamar Stevens focusing on eight schools

    Jul 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Jon Lopez/Nike Jon Lopez/Nike

    The Team Final rising senior tweeted out his list Friday morning.

  17. Friday Las Vegas Recap: De’Aaron Fox, Charlie Moore have monster games

    Jul 25, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    (Jon Lopez/Nike) (Jon Lopez/Nike)

    A pair of Class of 2016 lead guards put together great games on Friday night while a two-sport athlete and the younger brother of an SEC guard also stood out.