Finally, says Jeremy Lin, the jokes can stop about basketball at his alma mater after Harvard University got its first win in the sport’s premier event.
The Crimson’s 68-62 victory against the University of New Mexico two nights ago in the first full round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s tournament will help end the perception that the team is more a collection of bookworms than basketball players, said Lin, now a guard with the Houston Rockets.
“There’s so many stereotypes about Harvard,” Lin, a third-year National Basketball Association player, told reporters in Houston prior to last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “You could tell, even last night, just everyone saying nerd, geek, whatever. Yeah, it’s a joke, but eventually people will realize even though you go to Harvard you can still hoop.”
Less than 6 percent of the 8 million entries in ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge predicted a Harvard defeat of New Mexico, which was a No. 3 seed in the West region and the highest-rated club eliminated that night.
Among the Crimson doubters was U.S. President Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School and picked New Mexico to win in the bracket he filled out prior to the tournament.
Harvard will face the University of Arizona today in Salt Lake City, about 2,500 miles from the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard had been 0-3 in its two previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, losing twice in 1946 and getting ousted in its opener last year. The Crimson lost to Ohio State and New York University in 1946, when there were consolation games.
“It felt like college again,” said Lin, the first Taiwanese- or Chinese-American to play in the NBA. “They did a good job, man. I’m happy for them.”
Ivy League schools improved to 41-76 in NCAA tournament history with Harvard’s win. The league is now 3-13 since 2000, with the two previous wins coming from Cornell University in 2010, when the Big Red upset Temple and Wisconsin to reach the final 16.
Harvard made a return trip to the tournament this season after senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry withdrew from school in September amid accusations that there were similarities on the final exams of about 125 students. More than half of the students implicated were told to withdraw for as long as a year, Harvard said in February.
It was a blow for a team coming off a school-record 26-win season. Casey was Harvard’s leading scorer in 2011-12 and Curry was the starting point guard.
“They made history and they had a rough year with losing the two team captains and relying on a lot of freshmen and sophomore players,” Lin said.
He singled out senior guard Christian Webster for working hard after struggling to get playing time last season. Webster had 11 points in the win against New Mexico, which set off a celebration at John Harvard’s Brewery and Ale House in Harvard Square.
Not every Harvard graduate was swept up in the frenzy.
Derek Maguire, a 1994 graduate who works in fixed income derivative sales at Merrill Lynch & Co., was part of the Crimson hockey program that has won 13 ECAC regular-season titles and made 21 NCAA tournament appearances to go along with the 1989 national championship.
He called last night’s basketball win “interesting” in an e-mail, then added perspective.
“Being a former Harvard hockey player,” Maguire said, “I know Harvard basketball as the other winter sport.”