SPOKANE, Wash. — With his name immediately rising to the top of the list of candidates to fill the vacated head coaching job at Boston College, Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker did his best to quiet the chatter ahead of the Crimson’s NCAA Tournament opener against Cincinnati on Thursday.
BC announced Tuesday that it was parting ways with head coach Steve Donahue after suffering through the worst season in program history.
The job Amaker has done in his seven years at nearby Harvard — leading the Crimson to four straight Ivy League titles, three straight NCAA tournament trips, and also six straight wins over BC — makes him an obvious candidate.
Amaker also would bring with him an Atlantic Coast Conference pedigree, having played for and coached with Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. BC went 8-24 this season, including 4-14 in ACC play.
Speaking to the media Wednesday morning in Spokane, Amaker said he would avoid talking at length about the opening.
“I certainly can appreciate the question, but our focus certainly is on our team and that’s only fair for our kids and our program and our school,” Amaker said.
“I don’t ever comment on other jobs or positions. I’m fortunate to have the one that I have. I’ve been on the other side of not having a job and having lost a job. So I’m sensitive always to coaches and people and programs that go through those unfortunate circumstances.
“Certainly, I know, Steve and their staff, his family are dealing with that. But I’ll only comment on the job that I have, and I’m very proud to have the one representing Harvard.”
With the rumors cropping up so close to Harvard’s tournament opener, Amaker said he hadn’t talked to his players about the murmurs.
“There’s nothing to address,” Amaker said. “I can’t address speculation about so many things all the time. But I understand the question and I certainly appreciate, obviously . . . wanting some type of maybe comment from me, but my comment is exactly what I mentioned before and I don’t like to comment on other situations or jobs.
“I’ve been there and have been a part of that in the past and I certainly feel like what we have in front of us is the most important and I do think that’s the right thing for our school and our kids and in all honesty for me.
“So we’re focused on Cincinnati, we’re focused on our workouts today, and that’s how we should leave it.”
Harvard went 26-4 this season and comes into the tournament riding an eight-game winning streak.
In seven seasons at Harvard, Amaker is 138-70. In 2010-11, he led the Crimson to a 23-6 record and a share of its first Ivy League title, starting a run of four straight. The next season, the Crimson went 26-5 and earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1946. They reached the tournament every year since.
With the Crimson, Amaker has found the kind of success that eluded him earlier in his career.
As head coach at Michigan from 2001-07, Amaker’s job was to take a team from the stains of an NCAA investigation to a level of ethical credibility. In his second season, the Wolverines implemented a self-imposed ban on postseason play.
While he won 108 games at Michigan, he never reached the NCAA Tournament. Prior to that, Amaker spent four seasons at Seton Hall (1997-2001), where he went 68-55.
Amaker’s Harvard players weren’t surprised that he emerged as the top candidate for the BC job.
“We’re not surprised,” said senior guard Brandyn Curry. “Obviously, when the job opened up before, I think he was one of the candidates. And he’s a terrific coach, so of course people are going to want him. It comes as no shock, but we don’t pay attention to any of that.”
Sophomore guard Siyani Chambers, who has been an extension of Amaker on the court, said, “To be honest, I didn’t really hear anything about that with Coach and any of that situation. We’re just trying to focus on this game. I think if a situation like that occurred, Coach would come to all of us first before making a decision.
Senior forward Kyle Casey said the team’s focus is on Cincinnati, but he sensed that Amaker was comfortable at Harvard.
“Obviously this has happened before with the job across the river and I think Coach feels at home at Harvard,” Casey said. “I think he’s happy here. Hopefully we just take care of business in the tournament and we’l let that handle itself.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.