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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March Madness Invades Harvard Yard For First Time Since ’46

Harvard's Kyle Casey (30), Keith Wright (44), Oliver McNally (11)Laurent Rivard (0) and teammates react after Harvard scored a 3-pointer against Boston College late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Boston, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. Harvard won 67-46. (AP)

Who would have thought this would be the big year in basketball for Harvard?

While Harvard grad Jeremy Lin is lighting up the New York Knicks, his former team has made it to the NCAA for the first time since 1946. The No. 12 seed will play No. 5 seed Vanderbilt in the East Regional matchup Thursday afternoon in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

For Harvard senior forward Keith Wright, the attention is “really awesome.”

Harvard players Oliver McNally (left) and Keith Wright (background, right) speak to a small turnout of reporter after making the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 6 decades. (Doug Tribou/NPR's Only A Game)

“Walking to class you get a lot of congratulations and people really happy for you, people you never talked to before. I even had some random lady tell me congratulations,” he said to Doug Tribou from NPR’s Only A Game. “It’s nice, feeling the love and genuine excitement for your team.”

The excitement brings back memories for Louis Desci, a player from the 1946 team. It has been 66 years since Harvard last qualified, and while there were only eight teams at the time (there are 68 qualifying teams today), it was just as thrilling back then as it is now.

“I don’t think that anybody ever imagined that we would be invited to the NCAA tournament. We played in the original Madison Square Garden,” Desci said. “The smoke was so thick you could cut it with a knife.”

Desci tried out for the Boston Celtics in 1948, but ended up on a farm team in Connecticut where he eventually married and raised a family there. While he enjoys college basketball, he hasn’t been following Harvard. He said that he’s surprised Harvard made it back in.

(Doug Tribou/NPR's Only A Game)

“The Ivy League schools I don’t believe recruit like the other college teams do,” he said. “For them to get an outstanding team would be a bit difficult.”

Meanwhile, Harvard alumnus President Barack Obama has picked Vanderbilt over Harvard in his bracket, according to ESPN.

“I’ll be rooting for Harvard, but it’s just too much of a stretch,” he told ESPN Wednesday morning.

By the way, Harvard lost the 1946 game to Ohio State 46-38 in what was described as a game not nearly as close as the score might imply.

Guest:

  • Doug Tribou, reporter for NPR’s Only A Game produced at our home station WBUR in Boston

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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