Every year, Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker shares with the team’s seniors his own experiences as a senior playing in his final home contest for Duke. As Amaker noted, quite a bit has changed in college basketball over the years, but the tradition of Senior Night is one thing that is readily relatable to all players: the emotion of the pregame recognition, followed by the need to immediately shift focus to what happens on the court.
But for senior Kyle Casey and co-captain Brandyn Curry, who returned to school this year after taking a year off in the wake of the Government 1310 cheating case, this Friday’s Senior Night against Cornell might mean a little bit more.
“It kind of hasn’t hit me yet, I kind of don’t want it to, thinking about the last time I’m going to suit up at Lavietes [Pavilion],” Curry said.
“It’s definitely going to be a special moment. I’ve got some more family coming up, and I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Amaker discussed how the journeys of Casey and Curry to get back to school were made more difficult by the fact that their names were the only ones released in association with the scandal. While other students that had to take time off at least avoided the ignominy of having their involvement made public, Casey and Curry have had to deal with the backlash from the outside world, as well as the jeers of opposing fans.
“I’m incredibly proud of those guys for what they had to endure and how they handled it and how, in a lot of ways, they became the face of [the scandal] for everybody…. I thought those guys were magnificent with it,” Amaker said.
Though the two seniors’ roles have changed substantially since re-entering the program—largely in order to accommodate the rise of sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers and junior guard Wesley Saunders—their team’s success has them right where they hoped they would be when they came back. The Crimson sits atop the Ivy League and, after a road sweep of Penn and Princeton, is in control of its own destiny.
“This is what they wanted to return to do, to be in a position like this,” Amaker said. “It’s a long way before anything ever ends in terms of our regular season, but we’re in position.”
Curry and Casey will be honored in a ceremony before the game along with co-captain Laurent Rivard, Dee Giger, and Tom Hamel.In what was perhaps a savvy scheduling move, the Crimson will be able to deal with those distracting emotions against a struggling opponent in the last-place Big Red, which has won only one Division I game all year.
Saturday night’s test will be far stiffer, as Columbia comes to Cambridge fresh off of its first Ivy League weekend sweep since 2009. The Lions, which dealt Yale its second conference loss of the year, will be looking to avenge a double-overtime defeat suffered to the Crimson on Valentine’s Day.
On defense, Harvard’s main challenge will be containing junior forward Alex Rosenberg, the Ivy’s fourth-leading scorer (15.8 points per game) and top three-point shooter (44.2 percent). In the teams’ last meeting, Rosenberg scored a career-high 34 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Rosenberg’s lowest point total in conference play was 12 in a Feb. 1 loss at Brown. He has averaged 21.7 points per game in the six contests since.
The Crimson has an outside shot of clinching its fourth consecutive Ivy League regular season championship and third straight NCAA tournament berth this weekend, as Yale pays visits to Princeton on Friday and Penn on Saturday. If the Bulldogs lose both contests and Harvard sweeps, the Crimson will have a three-game lead in the standings with two games to play.
More likely is that this weekend’s play will set the stage for a pivotal game next Friday night in New Haven, when Harvard travels to Payne Whitney Gymnasium for a showdown against its archrival, with massive title implications on the line.
Chances are that the Crimson will not be looking that far ahead. At Monday’s media conference, Curry was surprised to learn that Yale had even been in action the day before and that his team was a game clear in the standings. For now, Curry and his Harvard teammates are only looking to avoid a letdown against Cornell on what promises to be an emotional night.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘Oh, we’re at home, it’s going to be easy—it’s senior week, so it should be easy,” Curry said. “But I know this team, and I know that we certainly won’t.”