- Sherman Alexie
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - In general, stereotyping is easy. And most people love to do things the easy way. It takes time to break down a group of people or things and understand that -even in groups you think might not be very diverse - there is plenty of individualism.
Besides, our brain is wired to champion the stereotype, always trying to put things in groups and categories to make things easier to remember the next time it comes up.
So when I mention the Ivy League, the images that your mind probably first conjures up is that of an intelligent kid, but usually a well-to-do one as well, the Ivy League schools aren't cheap. Some of the stereotype is accurate, it always is. But most of it, of course, is not.
Ivy League basketball, mostly thanks to the success of Princeton over the last couple of decades, has the reputation of being slow, methodical, big on fundamentals and back-door cuts.
But the Ivy League, for better or for worse, ain't what it used to be. Princeton still employs some of those elements, but not all. And then there's Tommy Amaker's Harvard. Detractors will point to reduced academic standards, however the Crimson have raised the bar in the Ivy the last couple of seasons, and they haven't done it with any particular ground-breaking style of play. They just have good basketball players.
Harvard came into Lee Amphitheater Saturday night not only the team to beat in the Ivy, but also the program everyone else is chasing, an odd place for the Crimson to be, seeing that last year's NCAA appearance was the school's first since seven months after World War II ended (their coach in 1946 - Floyd Stahl - coached baseball at Harvard and Ohio State, and also coached football and golf, just like today's coaches).
I was slightly disappointed the place wasn't sold out, but it was its usual loud self. Yale, with some infusion of energy and youth, had come a lot further than I thought they would in a rebuilding year this season, coming in at a respectable 5-4 in the Ivy and clearly fired up to take their best shot at the champs.
And they sure did. With apologies to MIT, Princeton, and a few others, students from the two top academic institutions in our great nation played a game that you could have seen in any conference. The teams traded superhoops and runs with Harvard scoring six straight points just before the half to grab a 34-28. The first half even featured a ridiculous superhoop from Wesley Saunders, as he rose above defenders to throw the ball down with one hand. It might have been the best dunk I've seen all season, one that you certainly didn't see much in the Ivy of old (although there were always a couple of dunkers hanging around).
Harvard led by eight and the first media time out of the second half, but Javier Duren and Justin Sears - two of the youngsters that have breathed life into the Bulldogs - led the charge back, scoring 13 points in three minutes to give Yale a 49-46 lead. Duren pumped his fist to his chest and Harvard knew it was in for a battle. Senior Austin Morgan's superhoop gave Yale a 56-51 edge with 9:20 to go.
But champions respond in such hostile situations, and the Crimson stormed back with eight straight points of their own. Leading the charge with Saunders was freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who - like Duren - has made his share of mistakes this season, but there's no questioning his talent or his leadership.
Yale was able to close within three a couple of times in the final minute, but Harvard had enough to pick up a massive road win against their inspired rivals.
Chambers and Duren got into it a few times on the evening, with Duren nearly picking up a flagrant with four minutes left and then doing so in the final seconds as Chambers pushed off just enough to not get called and Duren - needing to foul to stop the clock - basically just two-handed him to the ground. For a brief time there was some trash talk between the two teams, but finally Harvard ran out the clock and the postgame festivities occurred without incident.
In the end, Harvard showed why it's the new kings of the Ivy League, and with only one senior seeing significant playing time, they may be there for a while.
You can believe what you want to believe about lower academic standards (and I thought this Harvard article did a good job of summing up all the pertinent facts), or think that students from Harvard and Yale should be held to a higher standard than others.
But basketball is basketball. And this was fun.