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. Rick Barnes lands his first commitment as Tennessee head coach

    Apr 28, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Lamonte’ Turner is a borderline top 100 recruit.

  2. Sterling Gibbs to transfer from Seton Hall, eligible immediately

    Apr 28, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

    Sterling Gibbs (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Gibbs will be a highly sought-after transfer target

  3. How concerned should North Carolina fans be that Brandon Ingram passed on the Tar Heels?

    Apr 28, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Brandon Ingram’s decision to bypass UNC and go to Duke should worry the folks in Chapel Hill.

  4. Former Missouri guard Shane Rector headed to Utah State

    Apr 28, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Rector was a three-star recruit coming out of high school.

  5. Rutgers lands impact junior college forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    Wisconsin v Rutgers Getty Images

    Rutgers added a potential starter for next season on Monday.

  6. N.C. State lands commitment from athletic 2015 forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT

    Temple v North Carolina State Getty Images

    N.C. State landed a surprise commitment from an athletic 2015 forward on Monday night.

  7. Report: NCAA rules committee could change men’s basketball to 30-second shot clock

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    The NCAA is considering moving the shot clock to 30 seconds in men’s basketball.

  8. Duke lands five-star Class of 2015 wing Brandon Ingram

    Apr 27, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Getty Images) (Kelly Kline/Getty Images)

    Duke picked up its second major commitment in recent weeks with the addition of five-star wing Brandon Ingram.

  9. Seven takeaways from the AAU weekend at Nike EYBL, UAA and adidas Gauntlet

    Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/adidas) (Kelly Kline/adidas)

    Here’s seven takeaways from a busy weekend at the three shoe company events.

  10. Top ten recruit Jayson Tatum dunks on defender (VIDEO)

    Apr 27, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT

    Nike Nike

    Tatum might be the best player in the Class of 2016.

  11. Field for the 2015 Veterans Classic announced

    Apr 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    It will feature a preseason top five team.

  12. College basketball’s seven biggest early entry losers for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:48 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who were the biggest losers of the early entry deadline?

  13. College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Which potential draft picks returning to school will be the most influential in 2015-16?

  14. Austin Hatch’s inspirational basketball career has come to a close

    Apr 27, 2015, 10:17 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Hatch is one of the most inspirational people you will ever hear about

  15. UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Marcus Paige (Getty Images) Getty Images

    The return of Buddy Hield pushes previously unranked Oklahoma into our way too early rankings.

  16. 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?