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The Harvard Renaissance


Forty-four years ago the Harvard Crimson won college basketball's sweepstakes by signing the nation's consensus number 1 high school basketball player, James Brown, of DeMatha High School.  Brown, an African-American from Washington DC, chose Harvard over North Carolina and national champion UCLA.

Following Brown's debut for Harvard in the '69/'70 season, the demographics of Harvard basketball had infrequently changed.  Unlike Brown, who was recruited to Harvard by the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, Harvard coaches and recruiters seldom ventured into urban basketball hotbeds to lure other outstanding student-athletes to Cambridge.

Harvard was satisfied with the unwritten quota of two Blacks who actually could play some ball, surrounded by a team of future doctors, lawyers and politicos.  Most of the Black players recruited came from elite suburban private schools and whose ambitions extended beyond the basketball court.  I personally know two talented Black players, Neil Phillips of the Landon School and Ralph James of Archbishop Malloy, whose teams at Harvard didn't fully compliment their skill-sets to compete in March Madness.

In the last seven seasons at Harvard, head coach Tommy Amaker, who is from the DC Area and became the only Black head coach of all of Harvard's varsity sports in 2007, has made a conscious effort to diversify the Crimson roster.  One of his most popular former players, Jeremy Lin , is an Asian-American NBA star who has made it 'cool' to wear Harvard basketball gear.

Harvard's roster this season carries an astounding number of 12 African-American players.  Not only has coach Amaker destroyed the unspoken quota, but like John Thompson of Georgetown in the Eighties, he has changed the perception for young African-American student-athletes that they can attend the prestigious Harvard University.

For an institution that had long been considered the' glass ceiling' for athletes, they can now envision the Cambridge campus as a destination and All-American players like James Brown will know they will be complimented on the roster by other elite high-flying talent during this Harvard Renaissance.