Tommy Amaker grew up in Falls Church, the son of a retired school teacher, once called the best point guard in 10 years by Red Auerbach. He became an ironman at Duke, starting 138 games over four seasons. But after a professional career fizzed out in the CBA, Amaker turned to coaching.
Sixteen years after becoming the youngest head coach in Big East history at Seton Hall, Amaker scored arguably the biggest win of his career when No. 14 Harvard upset No. 3 New Mexico in last night’s NCAA tournament first round.
His mother, Alma Amaker, watched from home in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where she taught within the Fairfax County Public Schools for 50 years. She apparently still gives him advice, like “you’ve got to handle the ball better” and “don’t turn the ball over.”
With his top two players, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, leaving the team amid an academic cheating scandal that sent shockwaves throughout the proud Cambridge, Mass., institution, this might be Amaker’s best coaching job yet.
He leaned on freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who finished Thursday’s game with five points and seven assists. He got 40 minutes from guard Laurent Rivard, who made 5 of 9 three-point shots and scored 17 points. Wesley Saunders, whose stepped into a leadership role this season in Casey and Curry’s stead, notched a team-high 18 points.
Plus, he got revenge on New Mexico Coach Steve Alford, whose Hoosiers beat Amaker’s Blue Devils in the 1987 tournament.
“We certainly feel like it’s been a tremendous season for our program thus far, being Ivy League champions for the third year in a row and getting our first postseason win in the history of the program,’’ Amaker said, per the Boston Globe. “To do it in this fashion, on this stage, against an outstanding team … It means the world to us, a significant moment for us to be in this position.’’
Nate Silver forecasts Harvard with a 14.7 chance to advance against No. 6 Arizona and into the Sweet Sixteen. To have a shot against the Wildcats on Saturday, the Crimson will need substantial contributions from guard Christian Webster, the team’s only senior.
A Landon School graduate, the son of a former Washington Post All-Met honoree, Webster eschewed other Ivy League and Patriot League offers for Amaker’s burgeoning program. He arrived in 2009-10, when the Crimson were led by a hot-shooting guard named Jeremy Lin.
Once Lin left for the NBA, bound for international superstardom, Webster became Harvard’s glue guy, starting 29 games his sophomore season and 15 games his junior year. His 3,102 career minutes played rank eighth all-time in the Ivy League, but those waning seconds in Salt Lake City on Thursday night were the best yet.
“This is the No. 1 moment in my career,” said Webster, who notched 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting on 34 minutes. “The thought came to mind that this could be the last game. We showed a lot of toughness, just persevering.”
Here’s the WaPo on Webster and his father, from Jan. 27, 2009:
Parked on the Landon bleachers, Darryl Webster shifts between coach, parent and player — he calls himself a “hybrid” — as he questioned his son’s defense and offered his own cocked wrist as the example of a perfect follow-through during a recent game against Bullis.
“You have to think of him as two people: One, the loving, caring dad; then you have the basketball dad who’s yelling and screaming: ‘Come On Christian. Work harder. Extend on your jump shot,’ ” Christian said. “Both have helped me to get to where I am now, so I can’t ask for anything more.”
Darryl, who earned his master’s degree in social work from Catholic University, returned to Logan Circle in the late 1980s. He often brought drug addicts and other castaways into his home to offer them help, and gained national recognition as a community activist. He was Washingtonian Magazine’s “Washingtonian of the Year” in 1988 and USA Today named him one of the country’s top community activists in 1989.
More on Harvard in the NCAA tournament:
D.C. Sports Bog: When Tommy Amaker was an All-Met with Len Bias