Skip to content

How Harvard went from a laughing stock to a Cinderella

Mar 22, 2013, 11:00 AM EST

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. Bill Self on the loss of Kansas-Missouri rivalry: ‘It hasn’t been great’

    Jan 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EST

    AP AP

    That rivalry ended when Mizzou left the Big 12 in favor of the SEC.

  2. UMass guard Trey Davis ‘OK’ after being leveled by screen, expected to play Saturday

    Jan 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EST

    AP AP

    Trey Davis left the court with only seconds remaining after colliding into a Kendall Pollard screen.

  3. Oklahoma State to honor 1994-95 Final Four team during February 7 game against Kansas

    Jan 30, 2015, 5:09 PM EST

    Oklahoma State Athletics Getty Images

    “Big Country,” Randy Rutherford and the rest of the squad is expected back for the team’s game against Kansas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their trip to the Final Four.

  4. Bruce Pearl prepares for his first visit to Knoxville as Auburn head coach

    Jan 30, 2015, 4:04 PM EST

    Bruce Pearl Bruce Pearl

    Bruce Pearl expressed remorse over how his tenure at Tennessee ended and also remains thankful for former Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton.

  5. Pregame Shootaround: No. 6 Arizona looks to avenge lone conference loss, ‘Ivy League Friday’

    Jan 30, 2015, 2:47 PM EST

    Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson

    Having already lost one game in Ivy League play, Harvard looks to bounce back with a win at Princeton.

  6. Iowa front court dealing with injuries ahead of Saturday’s game against No. 5 Wisconsin

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:50 PM EST

    AP Photo AP

    Aaron White suffered a stinger in Iowa’s loss to Purdue, and Gabe Olaseni is dealing with a sprained ankle suffered Monday.

  7. Michigan State receives $3 million gift for men’s basketball program

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:43 AM EST

    Tom Izzo AP

    The donation will be used to improve the basketball offices and practice facility, with leftover funds being used for any improvements that may need to be made down the line.

  8. Resume boost: Kansas claims final No. 1 seed

    Jan 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    Bill Self AP

    Kansas’ incredibly rigorous schedule moves them to the top line in the latest update.

  9. Sluggish performance, Norman Powell drop No. 11 Utah out of Pac-12’s top spot

    Jan 30, 2015, 10:35 AM EST

    Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton Delon Wright, Isaac Hamilton

    Thursday’s loss was a reminder of the fact that these current Utah players are still getting used to being the “hunted.”

  10. D’Angelo Russell wasn’t the only freshman to step forward for Ohio State Thursday night

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:50 AM EST

    Morehead State v Ohio State Getty Images

    While D’Angelo Russell gets most of the attention (and rightfully so), another freshman has stepped forward in the last two games for the Buckeyes.

  11. Weekend Preview: Duke-Virginia, an MVC showdown and UNC-Louisville

    Jan 30, 2015, 9:02 AM EST

    Justin Anderson AP

    The Super Bowl isn’t the only high-octane action we’ll see this weekend.

  12. Former Oregon signee JaQuan Lyle verbally commits to Ohio State

    Jan 30, 2015, 12:19 AM EST

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    With Shannon Scott being a senior and D’Angelo Russell considered to be a possible lottery pick if he goes pro, JaQuan Lyle’s commitment is a nice insurance policy moving forward.

  13. POSTERIZED: Ike Nwamu’s emphatic dunk was originally called a charge (VIDEO)

    Jan 29, 2015, 10:57 PM EST

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwvjyjbiodlizwnmy2q0oge3yzm2zwrmyjq1zti2ndiw AP

    Ike Nwamu scored 20 points in the Bears’ 75-72 overtime win over Chattanooga, but should he have two (or three) more points to his credit?

  14. Thursday’s Snacks: Ohio State rolls past No. 16 Maryland

    Jan 29, 2015, 9:38 PM EST

    D'Angelo Russell, Dez Wells AP

    Providence’s Kris Dunn posted the program’s first triple-double since 2006, and UMass held off Dayton in Amherst.

  15. Big 12/SEC Challenge to be a one-day affair next season

    Jan 29, 2015, 8:44 PM EST

    Champions Classic: Kansas v. Kentucky Getty Images

    The third year of the event means an improved schedule, with all ten games being played on one day.

  16. Bradley’s leading scorer one of three players facing disciplinary action following incident Thursday morning

    Jan 29, 2015, 6:57 PM EST

    Bradley v Memphis Bradley v Memphis

    Warren Jones is averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game for Bradley, which has lost six of its last seven games.

  17. Brown’s leading scorer and rebounder decides to leave program

    Jan 29, 2015, 5:46 PM EST

    Brown v American Brown v American

    Leland King led Brown in scoring and was also tied for the team lead in rebounds per game.