CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard guard Oliver McNally had just finished lifting weights when the text messages started pouring in.
“My phone blew up right before practice,” he said Monday after the Crimson cracked The Associated Press’ Top 25 for the first time in school history. “I figured we had made it.”
Harvard (8-0) entered the rankings at No. 25 — the first Ivy League school to be ranked since Princeton made the top 10 late in the 1997-98 season, and just the third from the conference in the rankings since 1970.
“People have made history in every aspect at Harvard — except the basketball team,” McNally said. “That’s what we wanted to do here.”
Unbeaten with a win over then-ranked Florida State in the semifinals of the “Battle 4 Atlantis” Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas, Harvard is one of four teams to join the rankings this week.
“It’s a significant achievement to have that happen,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m proud of them for the hard work they put in and also very flattered that we’re being recognized at this point in the season.”
Amaker said that since last year’s Ivy tie with Princeton — the two shared the conference championship — he has felt more support from the community. This year, distinguished professors and alumni increasingly are seen in the stands.
“So many people that are associated with our university as a whole are engaged,” Amaker said. “The greatness across this campus is enormous. We’re a part of Harvard. We were hopeful that we could put a product as a basketball program on the court that could be associated with some of the great entities on the campus.”
Kentucky (8-0) beat North Carolina on Saturday and holds the No. 1 spot for a second straight week. UNLV, Saint Louis, Vanderbilt and California all dropped out of the rankings. Harvard could be joining them soon: The Crimson play at No. 9 Connecticut on Thursday. The defending national champions beat Harvard, 81-52, last season.
“The grand prize is we get to go down and play in Storrs,” Amaker said with a smile. “They’re one of the best programs in all of basketball. They could beat us by probably 150 points last year, but we’re very excited to play them.”