BOSTON (AP) — It wasn’t long ago when Harvard was orchestrating one of its best basketball seasons.
There was a conference title. There was the first NCAA tournament appearance in 66 years.
The Ivy League university was even part of an NBA sensation when former Crimson guard Jeremy Lin emerged from obscurity to star for a short time as the point guard for the New York Knicks.
What’s more, coach Tommy Amaker heard indirectly from President Obama before Harvard’s first-round game against Vanderbilt.
Indeed, the times were good.
‘‘There was a message that we received from someone who did speak to him that he wanted us to know that he did not pick us in his pool,’’ Amaker said Tuesday. ‘‘He picked Vanderbilt, but he wanted us to know privately that he hoped that we were the team to bust his bracket.’’
Harvard didn't, losing 79-70 and ending its season at 26-5.
And now Amaker is dealing with other losses. His two top experienced players are off the team in the wake of an investigation into an academic cheating scandal and a new season is upon him.
‘‘There’s not always going to be things that are going to be 75 degrees and sunny outside,’’ said Amaker, who appears to be taking the setback in stride. ‘‘There'll be a cloudy day. There might be a rainy day. And there might be a storm. But that’s the real world we live in.’’
Kyle Casey led Harvard last season in scoring at 11.4 points per game. Brandyn Curry topped the team with an average of 4.9 assists. Both started all 31 games as juniors.
Now they’re gone.
Amaker said he wasn’t allowed to comment on whether they had withdrawn from the school. But last month, Sports Illustrated reported on its web site that Casey decided to withdraw rather than endanger his eligibility, and the Boston Herald reported that Curry also had decided to take a year off. Both could return next season.
Harvard has said it was investigating similarities in the answers that more than 100 students submitted on an open-book, take-home final. Federal privacy laws prohibit the school from identifying the students or even the class, but published reports have said the class is an upper-level government class called ‘‘Introduction to Congress,’’ and that several of the students are athletes.
Casey and Curry have been replaced as co-captains by guards Christian Webster, one of the two remaining seniors, and junior Laurent Rivard.
‘‘Whether they have the ‘C’ next to their name (or not), we feel like they were going to be leaders on our team, in our program,’’ Amaker said. ‘‘It’s something that I'm sure that they'll probably try to do a little bit more of in terms of leadership roles.’’
With Curry gone, highly touted freshman Siyani Chambers is expected to play more than Amaker had anticipated.
‘‘Does it seem like things could be sped up a little bit? Maybe so,’’ Amaker said. ‘‘But we were thinking that he was going to contribute for us, no matter what, as a freshman.’’
But what about the departure of four players who started all 31 games last year? Besides Casey and Curry, Keith Wright and Oliver McNally are gone after finishing their senior season.
‘‘I may have to do more leading’’ than normal, said Amaker, who played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and took Seton Hall to the NCAA tournament in his first job as a head coach. ‘‘I always remember Coach K always talking about it years ago, and I'm sure he still does it, that as a head coach you have to learn to give a team what it needs.
‘‘That’s something I've always thought of going into each year and that may require more from me in that regard, or maybe less. I don’t know. But it’s that time of year where you’re excited to try to find out.’’
He also said he expects his players to have ‘‘laser-like focus’’ and not be distracted by the scandal.
The season opener against MIT Nov. 9 is still a month away. Harvard has some tough non-conference matchups against Connecticut, Saint Joseph's, California, Saint Mary’s and Memphis. Winning them will be much harder now than it was before Casey and Curry left the team.
But Amaker said he doesn’t concern himself with diminished outside expectations for his team’s success.
‘‘For us to maintain our standards (as a team and university) will be the most important thing that we can do,’’ he said. ‘‘We'll feel good about ourselves as long as we live up to (that).
‘‘We value teaching, leading and serving at our school and those aren’t just going to be in moments of ‘rah, rah, rah.’ No great organization or institution is ever going to just be associated with moments of where everything is great. So this is a wide-ranging situation that our entire community and university is dealing with.
‘‘So, I think we’re encouraged by a lot of folks to do what’s right, and that’s what we’re always going to do at Harvard.’’