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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Memo to Harvard Basketball: Never Let Sports Illustrated's Puff Pieces Go to Your Head

Last night was one of the biggest men's b-ball games in Harvard's basketball history. You've all heard the story -- Duke great Tommy Amaker, after struggles at Seton Hall and Michigan, arrives at Harvard, perhaps gets more cooperation from the athletic department and admissions office, and is getting kids to seriously consider Harvard over scholarship schools that combine good academics with good basketball. To top it off, the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated contains a puff piece on Harvard hoops that gushes over the Crimson more than first-time grandparents do over a newborn.

And two things must have happened because of that. First, that article must have really pissed off Cornell, which has one two straight Ivy titles and has to put up with knocks on its recruiting from other Ivies (who say the likes of, "I wish we had an Ag School to stash all of our hoop recruits) and other such nonsense. After all, why couldn't the puff piece have been about Cornell, which has the recent hoops history to deserve mention in the pantheon of Ivy great teams with teams from Penn's and Princeton's past? Second, despite how brilliant the Harvard kids are supposed to be, they must have let the article get to their head. After all, if so many kids and current recruits are considering Harvard over the likes of Stanford, they must believe that they can beat the average Ivy hoopster by just showing up. Look, an article like the one in SI that appears before the big game is every coach's nightmare. Forget about the SI Jinx. Just remember that you're dealing with kids, good kids, I'm sure, but they are kids, and kids like praise. And, because they're kids, they tend to believe it.

That is the backdrop of what happened last night in Ithaca, New York, when undefeated (in Ivy play) Harvard visited undefeated (in Ivy play) Cornell.

The result: Cornell 86 Harvard 50.

Yikes. Coaches fear the concept of having their team provide "bulletin board" fodder for the opposition on the eve of the big game. Well, it's not that the Harvard program did or didn't do anything (but, you have to admit, that big an article in SI has to be huge for recruiting) except cooperate with the writer, but heck, that article was bulletin-board fodder. Cornell not only ate up that press clipping, it devoured the Crimson.

That said, it's only one loss, and Harvard will get a chance for revenge in Cambridge soon enough. But for a program that's on the rise and stocked and getting fatter on much better recruits than the Crimson had in the past 20 years, it's a big lesson. They can't avoid talking to the press, but they must avoid believing what's written about them.


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