The media-relations office within Harvard University's athletic department was bombarded with requests last month as Jeremy Lin became a national sensation. Everyone wanted to know more about the Class of 2010 alumnus who was breaking racial and academic stereotypes as the New York Knicks' newfound point guard.
"Linsanity" has died down, but Harvard's sports-information officers are bracing for another surge of publicity: The Crimson is headed to the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the first time since 1946. "It's as tremendous a feeling as you can imagine," coach Tommy Amaker told the Boston Globe. "It just gives you a great sense of pride for not only our team but for so many teams before us."
Amaker, an African American who helped bust stereotypes when he played at Duke, has done an extraordinary job since arriving at Harvard in 2007. His win totals have risen from 8 to 14, 21, 23 and 26. This is the third consecutive season in which the Crimson set a school record for victories. It also earned the program's first national ranking this year, rising as high as No. 21 in the ESPN-USA Today Coaches poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.
"We had a vision about this school when we came here that this could be a special opportunity," said Amaker, who was named District I Coach of the Year by the United States Basketball Writers Association. "Harvard has so much greatness all over. We still have a long road ahead of us."
Harvard's greatness is associated with academics more than athletics. During Lin's rise to prominence, multiple stories pointed out that Harvard has produced twice as many U.S. presidents (eight) as it has NBA players (four).
But it's refreshing to watch Harvard, led by senior co-captain Keith Wright and junior Kyle Casey, remind everyone that, yes, African Americans can be Ivy League scholars as well as athletes.
Wright and Casey, selected to the All-District I team, are among six black players in Harvard's top eight based on minutes played. They hail from places as far-flung as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and from Medway, Mass., to Cameroon. The current success on campus, plus the popularity of a certain NBA player in the Big Apple, gives Amaker another recruiting tool for players who can handle the ball and juggle the books.
"With the Jeremy Lin press," Harvard booster Carmen Scarpa told the Harvard Crimson, "It's easier for [Amaker] to go to a kid and say, 'Hey, if you have NBA aspirations, you can still get an education at the greatest school in the world and still fulfill your dream.' "
U.S. presidents from the school will outnumber its NBA ballers for quite some time, if not forever. But change has come to Harvard; the Crimson is making noise in hoops.