Thursday, March 08, 2012

Hello, Harvard...

Tommy Amaker’s Dance step: Burn the floor
By Steve Buckley  |   Thursday, March 8, 2012  |  
Photo by Matthew West
Tommy Amaker was wearing a crisp, fashionable houndstooth coat with a tight, black and white checkered pattern, and the fit was a tailor’s dream.
Amaker always dresses well, as most college basketball coaches do, but yesterday was an especially big day at Harvard University’s Lavietes Pavilion. The Crimson are headed for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946, making for what senior captain Oliver McNally called “a crazy day” as television stations, radio stations, newspapers and web sites sent representatives to cover this big story about how Harvard — yes, Harvard — is going to The Dance.
Perhaps you caught a glimpse of Amaker on television, looking dapper as he talked about how “special things are happening on a special campus,” and how proud he is that “Harvard, Cambridge, Greater Boston, and even all New England, if you will,” are getting caught up in the success of the Crimson basketball team.
What the cameras didn’t show is that Amaker, from the waist down, was dressed for work: Black sweats and a pair of dusty Nike sneakers. Soon the snap, crackle and pop of the media would be gone, and that’s when the impressive sports jacket would disappear and Amaker and his team would begin their first practice session since clinching a spot in the tournament.
Yes, the people at Harvard are thrilled with what’s happening with their men’s basketball team. Said Charlie Hobbs, a Harvard junior who works for campus radio station WHRB-FM: “Even with everything that goes on at Harvard, this is the most excited I’ve seen everybody in my three years here. People who aren’t really sports fans are excited about it.”
Well . . . of course. But this is no longer a campus story. It’s just what Amaker said it was, with fans outside the walls of Harvard Yard embracing the team. OK, well, maybe they’re not talking nonstop Harvard hoops at Malachy’s Saloon in Quincy and the Tavern on the Hill in Somerville, but you wait: If the Crimson make some noise in the first round, these guys are going to own, as Amaker put it, “Cambridge, Greater Boston, and even all New England, if you will.”
That’s where the sweats and the dusty sneakers play into this story. The challenge facing Amaker and his players is not to fall into that we’re-just-glad-to-be-here trap. They get it: It’s been a long, long time since Harvard has been in the tournament. So long ago, in fact, that Hizzoner James Michael Curley was mayor of Boston when Harvard was duking it out with NYU (winning 67-61) and Ohio State (losing 46-38) in March of ’46. So long ago that the Celtics [team stats]were nearly seven months away from playing their first game. So long ago that Johnny Pesky hadn’t even (allegedly) held the ball.
McNally, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard who has been busy this week writing a paper on “classical and defensive realism” for his American foreign policy class, said the team goal this season was not just to make the tournament, but “to get there and make a run. We don’t want to get this far and just lay an egg.”
As if to make his point, McNally talked about what happened last year, how the Crimson tied Princeton for the Ivy League title, with the two teams meeting at neutral-site Yale for a playoff game to determine which school would get to taste March Madness. Princeton won a 63-62 thriller on a buzzer-beater by Douglas Davis, who managed to escape pressure being applied by McNally.
“I guess the mature thing to say, looking back on it, is that it was a great experience,” he said. “But I’m a little stubborn about those things. I can’t see it that way. It left a scar.”
So, no, Harvard isn’t just happy to be there. That’s why yesterday was not about fancy blazers, but about sweats and the dusty sneakers.
Yes, they said all the right things yesterday. They smiled for the cameras. They did one-on-one’s with the TV people. Then we left, and the Crimson got down to the task of owning Boston.
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