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Guard from L.A. helping to end Harvard basketball stereotype

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 8:28 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Harvard University is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the nation — if not the most prestigious.

It educates presidents of the United States, CEOs, hedge fund managers, Facebook founders, scientists and comedy writers for late night talk shows — among other prominent citizens.

But Harvard isn't known for producing basketball talent.

Well, at least it wasn't until the past year or two.

First there was Crimson grad Jeremy Lin infecting New York City with an outbreak of "Linsanity" last season before proving it was no fluke with another solid campaign with the Houston Rockets this year.

And now Harvard has reached the NCAA tournament two years in a row — and it actually won a game in the tourney for the first time ever Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena when the Crimson shocked No. 3 seed New Mexico.

"It's kinda nice to break the stereotype that we're the nerdy kids and to show people that we can play basketball as well," said Wesley Saunders, a sophomore guard who led the Crimson with 18 points on Thursday night. "It's great to finally show on a big stage what we can do on the court as well."

While the Crimson is filled with surprisingly talented players — like freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and Canadian 3-point specialist Laurent Rivard — Saunders is the scoring star. He has averaged 16.5 points per game and was a first-team All-Ivy League selection.

Saunders grew up in Los Angeles, just five miles from the USC campus. A high school teammate — Anthony Stover — went to UCLA and Saunders was recruited by Pac-12 schools as well. Two of the three finalists in his recruitment were the hometown Trojans and Colorado.

But he chose the third finalist, the one all the way across the country known for its elite education rather than its athletics.

"The decision to go out to the East Coast, to Harvard, was because when I went on my visit I fell in love with it — the whole atmosphere," said Saunders. "Everybody was so nice and it felt like home to me. The (basketball) program was on the rise and the academics speak for themselves."

No doubt Saunders and his teammates will have their hands full this afternoon at EnergySolutions Arena when they face Arizona.

But now that basketball is yet another thing Harvard students excel at, it wouldn't be too surprising if the Crimson gets into the Sweet 16. And perhaps Saunders and a couple of his teammates may be able to make a living playing basketball after graduation like Lin has.

Then again, if basketball after college isn't in Saunders' future, at least he'll have that Harvard degree to fall back on, which is not a bad consolation prize.

Email: lojo@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company