With Harvard’s 74-66 victory over Boston College last night, head coach Tommy Amaker notched his 179th win. He is now the all-time winningest coach in school history.
After beginning the season with a 1-3 record, Harvard is starting to round into form, defeating Northeastern and BC on back-to-back nights.
Anyone who has followed the Harvard program since Amaker took over ten years ago has witnessed one of the country’s best college basketball stories in terms of a coach building something unique and special at an institution that was long considered a hoops no-man’s land.
The former McDonald’s and Parade All-American, after a decorated playing career at Duke, has proven to be an exceptional coach. Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Coach Amaker up in Boston to talk about his upbringing, glory days at Duke, his early coaching stops at Seton Hall and Michigan, and his vision and passion for building the Harvard program from the ground up. He continues to build something special there.
When he arrived at the prestigious campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2007, Harvard hadn’t had a winning record in five straight years. By January of 2009, the Crimson beat 17th-ranked Boston College for the program’s first win ever over a ranked opponent. His ensuing recruiting class was ranked among the nation’s Top 25, which an Ivy League institution had never accomplished before.
For folks who were paying attention, they saw the early stages of Linsanity, before Jeremy Lin had New York City lit as a member of the Knicks, when he got busy against #14 UCONN to the tune of 30 points and nine assists in a narrow loss. By March of 2012, Harvard was in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. In March of 2013, Harvard beat New Mexico in the tournament, delivering the school’s first ever win over a Top Ten opponent.
The next year, they won the 2013 Great Alaska Shootout and punctuated a school record 27-win season with a victory over fifth-seeded Cincinnati during March Madness.
From 2011 through 2015, Amaker led Harvard to five straight Ivy League titles. He’s also been winning on the recruiting trail, convincing bright players with the academic chops who once would have never considered Harvard, to consider what a degree from the institution would mean for their future.
You can look no further than Harlem native Mohamed Bomba – a 6-foot-11 center at the Westtown School outside of Philadelphia that is widely considered among the very best players in the prep Class of 2017 – who is now considering Harvard, along with scholarship offers from the likes of Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova and North Carolina among a host of others.
Overall, Amaker has a 351-234 record and 60% winning percentage as a D-I college coach, which is amazing when you consider that each of his stops – at Harvard, Michigan and Seton Hall – were all major rebuilding projects.
As I wrote in my 2014 story, “If you think that Tommy Amaker is merely a coach, youre mistaken. He does coach basketball. But to assume that the job title is an apt description of what he does, and who he is, would be like saying that Harvard University, the institution where he plies his craft, is merely another school.
In reality, Amaker is a builder of things: An architect who specializes in renewal and revitalization. He begins each task with a vision, whether its an hourly, daily, weekly or long-term undertaking, buffeted by a blueprint and an inner passion.”
You might not see him on national television until the post-season, when Harvard almost annually gives one of the top teams in the country a run for their money, but if you love basketball and want to see a disciplined team that pushes a sweet fast break, runs some crisp half-court offensive sets, shares the ball, brings a toughness and defensive intensity and plays the right way, make an effort to catch the Crimson in action.
And be sure to pay attention to the nattily attired former high school and college All-American shouting instructions from the sideline. That guy is one helluva coach.