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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Kyle Casey remembers hearing Vanderbilt called “The Harvard of the South” when he was recruited by both coming out of high school.
Vanderbilt, which has the advantage of playing in the Southeastern Conference, was in his final three with Harvard and Stanford. But Casey, who’s from Medway, Mass., chose to stay close to home with the goal of trying to get Harvard back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Truman administration.
“I couldn’t be happier with my decision to come to Harvard,” the Crimson forward said Sunday after they were given a No. 12 seed and a matchup with fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in Albuquerque, N.M., in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “I’m at THE Harvard University. There’s no beating that.”
Sitting in a function room in the school’s athletic administration building, with an eight-seat crew shell suspended from the ceiling above them, the players waited as two other regions were announced. During commercials, they tapped away on their cellphones while fans — at least one wearing a Jeremy Lin Harvard jersey — milled around.
When they were finally announced, the players jumped into the air and hugged.
“To make the tournament and see our name come up to make it legit, all the specifics didn’t mean anything to me,” guard Oliver McNally said. “I love the sport of college basketball. This is one of the dreams I’ve had in my life.”
He’s about to experience reality. Vanderbilt (23-10) was still in New Orleans, where it upset No. 1 overall seed Kentucky on Sunday in the SEC tournament final, when it learned that it was a No. 5 seed. The Commodores are making their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and fifth in the last six years; they have lost three straight first-round games.
“We were just excited to hear our name called,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who played in the tournament when he was at Duke. “We know this great tournament is going to be as sensational as it’s always been, with a number of great games that we hope to be a part of.”
Harvard (26-4) set a school record for wins this year, breaking into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in its history and climbing as high as No. 21.
“We’ve done a lot of things a lot of players have come here to do,” Casey said. “It’s really humbling to do something here that’s never been done before, when so many things have been done here.”
Harvard’s last NCAA tournament appearance was in 1946, when the Crimson lost to Ohio State and then fell to NYU in a regional third-place game.