Basketball was introduced on the Harvard campus in 1900 by John Kirkland Clark, an 1899 Yale graduate enrolled at the Harvard Law School. Clark, who captained the Elis as a senior, served in the same capacity for the Crimson’s first entry and is likely the only person who can boast to having captained teams at both schools.
Harvard debuted with an 11-8 season, highlighted by a victory over Holy Cross at Hemenway Gym in its first game against an intercollegiate opponent. The Crimson hit double figures in wins twice more that decade, finishing 11-5 in 1904-05 and 12-4 the following winter.
A Successful Return
Basketball was absent from campus between 1909-20, but returned through the efforts of director of physical training William Greer, Daniel Kelley of the physical training department, and Bernard Damon ’20. Harvard called upon Edward Wachter, a successful coach and “the Dean of U.S. basketball shooters,” to rebuild the program. Wachter held the post for 13 years and enjoyed a span of nine winning seasons in a 10-year period, including a 16-6 mark in 1921-22. That Crimson squad swept rival Yale, 26-13 and 33-30.
It was during Wachter’s tenure that the team moved to the Indoor Athletic Building. The IAB — familiar to today’s readers as the Malkin Athletic Center — housed Harvard basketball from 1930 until the Crimson headed to Lavietes Pavilion (then Briggs Cage) in 1982.
On To The NCAAs
To many observers, Harvard’s finest team was its 1945-46 NCAA tournament squad, coached by Floyd S. Stahl and captained by Wyndol Gray ’46. One of the greatest players to suit up for the Crimson, Gray went on to star for the NBA’s Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks. The efforts of Gray, Louis Decsi ’46, John Gantt ’47, Paul Champion ’47, and guard Saul Mariaschin ‘47 allowed the Crimson to go through the regular season with just one defeat. Harvard earned its NCAA berth on the strength of a thrilling 39-37 triumph over Yale at a packed Boston Arena, and the team finished 19-3, establishing a school record for wins in a season which lasted until 2009-10.
Harvard posted a 16-9 record in 1957-58 and continued building its strong tradition in the 60s under coach Floyd Wilson. One of his best players was Merle McClung ’65, a first team All-Ivy selection who later received a Rhodes Scholarship and in 1993 was inducted into the school’s hall of fame. McClung and Keith Sedlacek ’66 helped the Crimson to perhaps the most talked-about upset in its history, an 88-82 win over Bill Bradley and the Princeton Tigers (who were bound for the Final Four) in 1964.
Notables who suited up for Harvard in the 60s were J. Michael Crichton ’64, author of Jurassic Park, and former vice-president Al Gore ’69, who played for the 12-4 freshman team of 1965-66.
In the early 70s, Harvard featured great scorers such as Dale Dover ’71 (1,021 points), Tony Jenkins ’74 (1,079) and James Brown ’73 (1,242). Brown was inducted into the University’s hall of fame with Floyd Lewis ’73, who holds the single-season rebounding mark of 343. This duo helped the Crimson win the 1973 Beanpot Championship with victories over Boston College and Northeastern.
Later in the decade, Glenn Fine ’78, Harvard’s career assist record until 1994, became the program’s second Rhodes Scholar. Harvard also had several well-known and successful coaches during this period. Tom “Satch” Sanders, a member of eight world championship teams while with the Celtics, was the Crimson’s head coach from 1973 until 1977. Mike Jarvis, formerly the head coach at Boston University, George Washington, and St. John’s, and K.C. Jones, another Celtics legend who coached Boston to a pair of NBA titles in the mid-80s, served as Harvard assistants.
Setting An NCAA Standard
There were many more standout players in the 80s, including Don Fleming ’82, a rare three-time first team All-Ivy selection. Joe Carrabino ’84-85, the school’s all-time scoring leader with 1,880 points, helped Harvard to a 15-9 mark in 1984-85 that included an 8-0 start. From 1988 until 1992, Ralph James ’92 became the first player to lead the Crimson in scoring four straight years. He set the program’s single-game scoring mark with 41 points in a 105-97 win over Penn at the Palestra during his junior season.
In 1983-84, Harvard established an NCAA record for team free throw shooting that still stands more than two decades later. The Crimson hit an amazing 82.2 percent of its attempts, prompting former Louisiana State coach Dale Brown to have his team don “Beat Harvard” t-shirts for several years to get them to concentrate better at the foul line.
Another Impressive Run
Over the past several seasons, Harvard has established itself as one of the Ivy League’s most successful programs as the Crimson boasts the circuit’s third-best record since 1995-96. The run includes the 17-9 campaign of 1996-97.
The 1998-99 season was notable for impressive nonleague wins at Boston College and Santa Clara, while 2002-03 marked the eighth straight year Harvard reached double figures in victories, another school record.
A series of tremendous players have led the Crimson to these heights. Tim Hill ’99 graduated as Harvard’s all-time assists leader. Dan Clemente ’01 was a two- time first team All-Ivy selection who graduated with the most three-pointers in program history (220) and finished fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list (1484 points). Both players were Ivy Rookie of the Year recipients.
Other prominent players from recent times are Kyle Snowden ’97, twice a first team All-League choice and the program’s all-time leading rebounder (913), and career steals leader Andrew Gellert ’02 (242), who led the Ivies in that category in three straight years.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman ’03 became the league’s career assists leader after leading the Ivies in helpers in all four of his seasons. Brady Merchant ’03 also capped an outstanding career by setting Harvard’s single-game scoring record with 45 points in the 2003 season finale against Brown.
Most recently, Matt Stehle ’06 finished a standout career with a pair of All-Ivy accollades as well as ESPN The Magazine All-America status after a senior season that saw him rank among the league leaders in an astounding nine statistical categories. After leading the league in rebounding for two seasons, and starting the last 81 games of his career, Stehle finished his career ranked among the top Crimson of all-time in points (1,151), rebounds (689), blocked shots (111), and steals (142).
It wasn’t a one-man show in 2005-06 however, as the Crimson tied program-bests under Frank Sullivan with a 5-0 start, eight non-conference victories, and the program’s first votes in the Associated Press Top 25 after earning recognition during the first two polls of the season.
The 2006-07 season saw two more seniors, Brian Cusworth ’07 and Jim Goffredo ’07 emerge as stars with Cusworth averaging 17.4 points and 9.1 rebounds while Goffredo garnered ESPN The Magazine All-America status by averaging 15.4 points per game.
Amaker Takes The Reins
In 2009-10, Harvard enjoyed one of the finest seasons in program history, boasting a 21-8 overall record during the third season under head coach Tommy Amaker. The Crimson, which enjoyed a 10-4 conference mark, earned a postseason bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Jeremy Lin ‘10 earned All-Ivy League first-team honors and became the first player in the history of Ivy League to record 1,450 points (1,483), 450 rebounds (487), 400 assists (401) and 200 steals (225). In addition, Harvard, which set a new team record with its 21 victories, defeated Boston College for the second straight season and Kyle Casey ‘13 was tabbed as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
During the 2010-11 campaign, the Crimson continued to reach new heights, as Harvard broke the school record by winning 23 games. Harvard also earned a share of the program’s first Ivy title, going 12-2 in conference play. The Crimson went 14-0 at home and played in its first Ivy League playoff after finishing tied with Princeton. In addition, Keith Wright took home Ancient Eight Player of the Year honors. The Crimson earned a spot in the NIT for the first time in program history, finishing the year 23-7.
In 2011-12, Harvard again surpassed the program mark for wins with 26 and earned its second straight Ivy title, going 12-2 in league play. The Crimson also won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, posted an 11-1 record at home and went 15-3 in road/neutral site games. Harvard also earned its first NCAA tournament berth since 1946.
Harvard repeated its success in 2012-13, as the team captured its third consecutive Ivy crown, going 20-10 overall and 11-3 in conference play, as the squad earned 20 wins for the fourth straight season. The Crimson also emerged with its second straight NCAA tournament bid. Freshman Siyani Chambers was the unanimous selection as the Ivy Rookie ofthe Year and joined Wesley Saunders on the all-conference first team. The Crimson, seeded 14th, captured its first NCAA tournament win, upsetting No. 3 seed New Mexico, 68-62, in Salt Lake City. Harvard advanced to the Round of 32 before falling to sixth-seeded Arizona.
The Crimson doubled-down on that feat in 2013-14, knocking off fifth-seeded Cincinnati, 61-57, to reach the NCAA tournament's Round of 32 for a second straight year after winning a fifth straight conference crown. Harvard shared the Ivy title in 2014-15 with rival Yale, but defeated the Bulldogs in a one-game playoff, 53-51, for the right to represent the Ancient Eight in the Big Dance once again.
Harvard's reign over the Ancient Eight is unmatched in recent years, as the Crimson has matched the Ivy League record with six consecutive 20-win campaigns, has become just the second program to win five straight Ivy titles, and has become just the third program in Ancient Eight history to reach the NCAA tournament in four successive years.