Tommy Amaker’s bunch isn’t sneaking up on anybody.
While college basketball fans are done with letting the Harvard Crimson bust their brackets, coaches now have to adjust to Amaker swooping in and taking their recruits. This year especially, several power conference coaches have seen their recruiting targets snub the cavernous arenas and big-time hoops names for the lure of the lecture halls and research labs that sit just outside Beantown.
These guys are Cal on the court and Caltech in the classroom.
With four, yes four, ESPN top 100 recruits headlining a heralded incoming class, the expectations for the Crimson are sky high.
Amaker’s recent success at Harvard is well-documented, for sure. But just how the coaching staff has managed to bring the Crimson to steady national prominence became almost a blur for those following college basketball the past few years.
This success has permeated the campus and surrounding areas, bringing a new excitement for a team that for many years had anything but.
Basketball seems to be on lots of peoples’ minds around Harvard, but basketball is not the only priority for these recruits.
This is not to say that this mindset is limited to the Crimson, or just to the Ivy League, but the Harvard brand holds an unmistakable aura and Amaker is finding players who are more than grateful for the ability to take advantage of it.
As Amaker mentioned to USA Today:
Take Seth Towns, a 4-star Harvard commit and ESPN’s No. 98 national prospect, who put it this way,
“I was looking at which school I was going to, not which basketball program,” he said.
For Towns, who turned down closer-to-home offers from Big Ten schools like Michigan and Ohio State, there was much more to consider than just the opportunities on the hardwood.
“Being able to use the resources and networks I’ll have at Harvard is incredible,” he said. “I’m just so blessed that I have the opportunity to get the best of every spectrum. The opportunity is incredible.”
Towns also said that he hopes he and his fellow incoming freshmen can start a trend among high-level recruits by putting academics on the same level as athletics.
“It all starts somewhere, he said. “So we may as well be the trailblazers.”
Fellow incoming freshman Chris Lewis, the No. 68 recruit in ESPN’s 2016 rankings, agreed.
“People won’t think that going to a school that has high academics as well as being able to play [high-level] athletics is something that’s so rare anymore,” he said.
A major selling point to come to Harvard wasn’t just the big-time road trips or TV exposure many players across the country are promised. Meeting with professors, sitting in on lectures, and having an opportunity to obtain internships and research positions on campus are an integral part of the Harvard brand. These guys know what they are signing up for: the best of both academic and athletic worlds.
“I want to study engineering,” Lewis said. “And to be able to take classes at MIT is something important to me.
This thought process was different than the traditional recruiting process many had become accustomed to. Lewis, talking to USA Today, felt like he had to justify his commitment to others.
“I found myself explaining to them a lot,” he said. “They don't understand how good of a situation Harvard has placed in front of me.”
But he and others before him, such as Zeno Edosomwan, Harvard’s first ever top-100 recruit who made headlines when he selected the Crimson over other big-name schools, have proven that the current mold doesn’t have to apply to them.
And the trailblazing has already taken effect. The No. 2 recruit for 2017, Wendell Carter Jr., recently released his final list of eight schools, and among Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Arizona lies none other than the Harvard Crimson.
The program is eager to get to the point where fans and fellow players are no longer surprised to see the Harvard crest lining up alongside the more traditional basketball blue-bloods.
Amaker and his staff are unwilling to make concessions when it comes to the their basketball players and the academic mission of the school. And for now, it looks like he has that market cornered. Along with Towns and Lewis, this season, Harvard will welcome Robert Baker Jr. from Georgia and Bryce Aiken, who comes to Cambridge from high school basketball powerhouse The Patrick School.
With Yale pulling a 4 vs. 13 upset last year in the Big Dance and Columbia taking home the CIT title, the Ivy League brand, from sports to the science lab, is further strengthening its stronghold among potential recruits.
When a commit mentions, “this is going to be the best offer I am going to get,” the word offer takes on a whole new meaning, and not just because the Ivy League doesn’t actually offer athletic scholarships. For these student-athletes, this offer extends way past their opportunity to put on a jersey. It extends to a lifetime of opportunity that is made possible by some of the most enriching academic opportunities in the world.
The number of Nobel Laureate medals may always outnumber the Ivy League conference title banners on campus, but for these crop of players who join the Harvard ranks, who’s to say they can’t add to both of them?