He never said their names.
Kyle Casey was the leading scorer last season when the Harvard men’s basketball team rang up a school-record 26 victories, won its first outright Ivy League title, and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Brandyn Curry was the floor general.
But coach Tommy Amaker made it a point Tuesday to speak only of the players that would be there this season.
Speaking publicly for the first time since two of the key pieces from the team reportedly withdrew from school in the midst of a campus cheating scandal, Amaker withheld any comment on them during Massachusetts Basketball Media Day, hosted by Boston College.
He declined to go into specifics about whether Casey and Curry had officially withdrawn, but throughout his conversation with reporters, he talked as if he were preparing to coach the team without them.
“Because of the privacy laws and out of respect for the process and the many, many students that are involved in this, I’m not allowed to comment, to speak,” Amaker said. “Only the highest officials at our university will have any kind of direct statements or comments regarding the situation on our campus.”
Word that dozens of students apparently had collaborated on a take-home exam during the spring semester surfaced in late August, and within weeks, athletes from both the basketball and football teams were implicated.
“I’m not sure I had a particular reaction,” Amaker said. “Unfortunately I can’t elaborate or discuss or share in that regard. But we have what we have and we are who we are and we’re excited about what’s in front of us and the opportunity for this team this year.”
Casey and Curry both would have been captains this season. In their absence, junior Laurent Rivard and senior Christian Webster will lead the locker room. But along with Casey and Curry, the Crimson lost two seniors, including Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright, and with 10 underclassmen, Amaker said he will have to be more hands-on.
“I think, every year, you’re wondering about leadership,” said Amaker, “especially if you had terrific leadership in the past, and we did. Regardless of who we have or don’t have or how it shapes up for us, you’re always, as a coach, you’re wondering.
“One of the things that may have to happen — and it’s not just because of this year, but any year — is I may have to do more of leading our team. I remember always Coach K [Mike Krzyzewksi] talking about, as a head coach, you have to learn to give the 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. But it’s that time of year where you’re excited to try to find out these things.”
In five years under Amaker, the Crimson have won 92 games, 67 in the past three seasons, the most successful stretch in school history. For the first time, Harvard was picked to finish first in the Ivy League last year and in all likelihood would have been the favorite again this year.
“We have standards that we try to live by, regardless of what outside thoughts or expectations may be, and we really focus on that,” Amaker said. “Whether that’s people thinking we’re going to be good or we’re going to be not so good, we don’t try to worry about that.”
Though the topic of Casey and Curry seemed to linger over much of Amaker’s sit-down with the media, he spoke in general terms about getting through the year with a roster that will be significantly different from the one he had planned on.
“We’re excited about this season,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenges that every new year can bring, with different combinations, different lineups, loss of seniors and incorporating young players.
"It’s always a very exciting time. Every season’s a new season, regardless who you have returning from one year to the next, it’s always a new year. So we’re excited for that process to continue.
“Hopefully, with a lot of younger guys — there’s a little bit more inexperience with incoming players and returning guys — but I’m anxious to see how we pick things up and progress in a direction that we think can be an incredible opportunity for this team.”
Amaker acknowledged that the issue won’t go away. The Crimson will hear questions about Casey and Curry all season.
But he doesn’t expect the noise to be a distraction.
“We’re doing what we’re doing and we’re focused on what we can control and we’re going to continually stay laser-like focused,” Amaker said. “Can it be a challenge? I’m sure in a lot of ways it can, with outlets and media. That’s the world we live in.
“But I like the kids that we have and the focus that they bring and how excited they are for, I think, an incredible opportunity in front of us.”