The Harvard men's basketball team was 14-0 at Lavietes Pavilion last season (Gil Talbot).
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – After winning its first Ancient Eight crown and grabbing a program record 23 victories last season, the Harvard men's basketball team has been chosen first in the 2011-12 Ivy League men's basketball preseason media poll, league officials announced Wednesday.
Harvard is coming off a 23-7 season in 2010-11, as the Crimson grabbed its first conference crown and received a bid to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) for the first time in program history. The Crimson, under the tutelage of head coach Tommy Amaker, went 12-2 in the Ancient Eight, marking the most conference wins in Harvard history.
In addition to welcoming seven newcomers to this year's squad, Harvard returns 12 players from last year's team, including senior co-captain and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright, who has been honored on every preseason all-conference team. Wright, who led Harvard with 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season, was also named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50.
Oliver McNally, also a senior co-captain, finished second in the nation and established a new Harvard record last year, making 92.6 percent (100-of-108) of his free throw attempts. Juniors Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Christian Webster also return after being honored to the All-Ivy League team last winter. Casey averaged 10.7 points and 6.0 boards per game, while Curry was an Academic All-Ivy League choice and led the Ancient Eight with 5.9 assists per contest in 2010-11. Webster stood second on the Crimson with 13.0 points per game as a sophomore.
The Crimson, which is looking to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946, will open the 2011-12 season by hosting MIT Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
2011-12 Ivy League Men's Basketball Preseason Media Poll
1. Harvard – 135 points (16 first-place votes)
2. Yale – 103 (one first-place vote)
Princeton – 103
4. Penn – 90
5. Brown – 62
6. Cornell – 52
7. Columbia – 50
8. Dartmouth – 17
Head coach Tommy Amaker's Comments During Ivy League Men's Basketball Teleconference:
We are very thrilled to have our team returning from last season. We thought we were one of the younger teams a year ago, and now we've become a veteran team for this year. We also have a strong incoming class, but they have a lot to learn, as all freshmen do. We are optimistic for the prospects for this season. We think our league will be incredibly challenging, as it has been during my entire tenure here at Harvard. I anticipate it will be an intense race and battle all the way through, and it's very challenging to have a 14-game tournament. We are up to the challenge of it and looking forward to the opportunity that presents itself starting November 11.
On Kyle Casey returning to health:
Two years ago, he was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and I thought he had a sensational freshman campaign. He was able to play alongside with Jeremy Lin, who was able to make everyone around him better. I think that's the mark of a special player, which Jeremy certainly was for us. Around this time last year, he was injured, and I think he missed four or five games before he came back. I don't think we ever had a fully healthy Kyle Casey last year, and that was evident since had to have surgery again in the offseason. We're hopeful that he has that completely behind him and so far so good with Kyle.
He's a very active and athletic player. With the way we play, that's vital to our system and style. We are looking for big things for Kyle Casey, assuming he's healthy, and so far he is. We think he certainly has the ability to impact our team positively in a variety of different ways.
On working the freshman class into the lineup:
It's a process for them. I think a lot of players go through it when you're starting over in some ways with a system, style, philosophy and terminology, and yet they are going to college now and that's all a brand new experience. There's a lot of firsts for them and an adjustment and transition period. Certainly, we see that on the floor. I'm hoping having the freshmen becomes a luxury for us early since we're not so much relying on any one or two young guys to feel that they have to put so much on their shoulders to help us perform to a high level.
They are going to have to earn playing time. It's not so much us meshing them in as it is them earning it and fitting into the system. We have the kind of players that we feel that is the process with which they are going to approach it. They are going to earn their stripes and are going to want to fit in with this program and team. That's the beauty of these players that we have been able to get to come to Harvard.
On expectations for this season:
Everyone wants to be in a position where people are thinking highly of your team, as opposed to the opposite way of it. I think we all work hard to try to become better and to grow and develop. Part of that process, you're hoping along the way that you are going to be thought of in a positive way. What we try to focus on is that we want to stay true to our identity and stay true to the standards that we have. Our standards are usually high and probably are higher than whatever external force will be placed upon our shoulders. It's more important that we stay focused on who we are internally and what our standards are. That's the mindset that we are preaching and teaching with our team, and hopefully, they are absorbing it and we'll be able to run with it as the season progresses.
On increasing Harvard's profile nationally:
This league has great tradition with great teams. If you become really good in this league, you can become a national team and program. Our focus is to certainly become one of the better teams consistently and a contender in our league. We think if we're one of those teams or that team then everything else from a national perspective and notoriety will certainly come along with is. First thing's first. We need to focus on getting better each day and trying to become one of the contenders and better teams here in our great conference.