In the seven seasons since taking over as head coach of Harvard’s century-old men’s basketball program, Tommy Amaker has reinvented the Crimson into an Ivy League power with a national presence. He has directed Harvard to a period of unprecedented prosperity in the form of three straight NCAA tournament appearances, four consecutive Ivy League championships and five 20-win seasons in a row.
Amaker was introduced as head coach by Nichols Family Director of Athletics Bob Scalise on April 13, 2007, following six seasons as head coach at Michigan and four at the helm of Seton Hall. Amaker owns a 315-210 career record: 139-71 at Harvard, 108-84 at Michigan and 68-55 at Seton Hall. He ranks third on Harvard’s all-time wins list and has earned numerous Coach of the Year awards, including the 2013 Clarence “Big House” Gaines College Basketball Coach of the Year Award, presented to the top minority basketball coach in NCAA Division I.
Before beginning his head-coaching career, Amaker won two NCAA championships and advanced to five Final Fours as an assistant and associate head coach at Duke. He was previously a four-year starter at point guard for the Blue Devils, leading the team to the 1986 NCAA title game before earning All-America honors and recognition as the nation’s top defensive player in his senior year of 1987.
Harvard has garnered the attention of the nation after advancing to the NCAA tournament third round each of the last two years, but Amaker’s teams have long been making headlines, with each season bringing more program milestones. Some of the highlights:
Among Amaker’s career achievements:
Under Amaker, Harvard’s successes include five consecutive 20-win seasons, four consecutive Ivy League championships and three straight trips to the NCAA tournament. In 2013-14, the 12th-seeded Crimson knocked off fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the tournament’s second round, and nearly pulled off an upset of fourth-seeded Michigan State to reach the Sweet 16. Harvard finished the year with a 27-5 overall record and a 13-1 mark in the Ivy League, setting program bests for both overall victories and conference victories, and also captured the title at the Great Alaska Shootout along the way. Additionally, a record six Crimson were named to the All-Ivy League teams, including player of the year Wesley Saunders ’15.
A year earlier, Harvard earned a historic win in the NCAA tournament as the 14th-seeded Crimson upset third-seeded New Mexico, which was ranked 10th nationally. The victory was the first by the Crimson against a top-10 opponent and left Harvard among the nation’s top 32 teams at season’s end. The 2012-13 season also saw Amaker become the fourth head coach to win 100 games at Harvard, reaching that milestone on Jan. 5, 2013, when the Crimson defeated Rice, 92-62.
A win in the NCAA tournament was a natural progression after the 2011-12 season, perhaps the best overall campaign in program history and the first in which the Crimson claimed sole possession of the Ivy title. En route to ending its 66-year NCAA tournament drought, Harvard debuted in the national rankings, climbing as high as No. 21 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press poll. Finishing 26-5, Harvard eclipsed the program’s previous record for wins for the third straight year and matched the previous season’s program-best 12-2 Ivy mark. The Crimson also won the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, with wins against Utah, No. 20 Florida State and UCF.
For his effort, Amaker was named the USBWA and NABC district coach of the year, as well as the College Insider Ivy League Coach of the Year. Amaker was also tabbed a finalist for the Ben Jobe Award and the Hugh Durham Award for coaching and was selected as a candidate for the AP National Coach of the Year. He received the NABC, College Insider, Jobe and Durham recognitions for the second straight year.
Harvard’s first Ivy crown came in 2010-11, when the Crimson went 23-7, tied Princeton at 12-2 in league play, set a program record with 14 home wins and made its first NIT appearance. The 23 wins briefly held as the program standard, erasing the 21 victories from 2009-10 from the top spot. That 2009-10 campaign ended in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, Harvard’s first postseason berth since 1946.
Amaker’s first two seasons showed signs of the great achievements to come. The 2008-09 freshman class was tabbed as one of the nation’s 25 best recruiting classes by ESPN, an accolade never before bestowed upon an Ivy League institution. The Crimson went on to post a victory at No. 17 Boston College. The marquee win in Amaker’s debut season of 2007-08 was a 62-51 victory over Michigan—Amaker’s former team—on national television.
At Michigan, Amaker inherited a program that was reeling from institutional and NCAA sanctions but led the Wolverines to the postseason three times, winning the 2004 NIT title and reaching the championship game of the 2006 NIT. The Wolverines were ranked as high as No. 20 in the nation during the 2005-06 season.
Seton Hall reached the postseason every year during Amaker’s tenure. He led the Pirates to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2000 and to three appearances in the NIT. He was credited with bringing in the top recruiting class in the country, including the national high school player of the year, for the 2000-01 season.
Amaker served nine years as a graduate assistant, assistant coach and associate head coach at Duke, working for legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He was an assistant on two NCAA championship teams with the Blue Devils (1991, ’92) and helped Duke to three other Final Fours in eight NCAA tournament appearances. Duke was a combined 230-80 in Amaker’s nine years on the Blue Devils coaching staff.
Amaker has been the head coach of six players who were either drafted, or signed as free agents, by NBA clubs including two first-round draft picks.
A native of Falls Church, Va., Amaker began his career in college basketball with a highly successful playing stint at Duke. He led the Blue Devils to four NCAA tournaments and served as team captain as a senior. Amaker was the 1987 winner of the Henry Iba Corinthian Award as the nation’s top defensive player, and he was enshrined in the Duke Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2013, Amaker was inducted in the Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame.
Amaker is also a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2013, and the W.T. Woodson H.S. Hall of Fame (Fairfax, Va.) (2012).
Amaker’s playing career also includes a gold medal as part of the U.S. national team at the 1986 World Championships.
A 1987 Duke graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Amaker was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1987 NBA draft. He is a former member of the board of directors for USA Basketball and was a member of the Men’s Collegiate and Men’s Senior National Committees with USA Basketball, where he helped select members of the gold-medal-winning 1996 U.S. Olympic team.
Amaker also serves on the Board of Overseers for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston and on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Basketball Coaches Foundation.