It wasn’t until Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were standing arm-in-arm with their mothers at halfcourt that it finally hit them.
Flashes from cameras flickered in their faces. Their mothers clutched bouquets of flowers. Their names echoed throughout Lavietes Pavilion, honoring the Crimson seniors on a night dedicated to their class.
Casey turned to Curry and said, “Man, you remember when we watched Jeremy up here [in 2010]?”
Five years ago, they were two teenagers who were sold on Tommy Amaker’s pitch to turn Harvard into a basketball brand name.
They saw signs of it before they ever stepped on campus, when they were glued to their televisions and their cellphones watching Jeremy Lin carve up Boston College and quietly start a culture shift for Harvard basketball.
“I remember just watching the BC game and calling Brandyn,” Casey said. “I was like, ‘You watching this?’ ”
For them, it was confirmation.
Casey told Curry, “Man, let’s do it.”
Five years later they were in standing in the same spot as Lin. When they looked to their left they saw the banner with their three Ivy League titles. They thought about the program’s five straight 20-win seasons. They thought about their roles in bringing Amaker’s vision to fruition.
“It’s just been a journey and an experience of a lifetime,” Casey said. “With ups and downs, but it’s been very rewarding and fulfilling.”
At the same time, they had a game to think about. Two, actually. The one they were playing Friday night against last-place Cornell was their most immediate concern. But the one in New Jersey between Princeton and second-place Yale had a direct effect on the race for the Ivy League title.
While the Crimson were neatly filing away a 72-47 blowout — shooting 51 percent from the floor, drilling eight 3-pointers, and knocking down 18 of 21 free throws — the out-of-town score was low on their list of priorities.
“Whatever’s going to go on is going to go on,” Amaker said. “I don’t think that we can control a lot of things, but we have a chance to influence what we’re doing and that’s all that matters. You can get focused and fixated on other things and lose sight of what’s the most important, which is us.”
Amaker was more concerned with starting four seniors. For Laurent Rivard (6 points), the start made him Harvard’s all-time leader in games with 118. For Dee Giger, who had never started before, it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Curry (12 points) and Casey (10), who both sat out last season for their involvement in a university-wide cheating scandal, it was a long, winding journey come full circle.
But once the Crimson put the Big Red away — sealing their 23d win, matching the 2010-11 team for the second-most in program history — they checked the scores and realized Princeton had done them a huge favor by posting a 57-46 win.
Yale’s loss gave Harvard (23-4, 10-1) a two-game cushion in the Ivy with three games to play and put the Crimson in position to clinch at least a share of their fourth straight league title on their home floor Saturday night against Columbia. It will be the seniors’ last game at Lavietes.
“We know what’s on the line, but that’s what we prepared for, that’s why we came here,” Casey said. “We came here to dominate and do something special that’s never been done. I know we’ve been saying that for four or five years now, but we’ve been doing it for four or five years now, too. We’re trying to leave a legacy and create a dynasty after we leave. So tomorrow’s important. It’s cool how it could end. We just need to seize the moment.”