Casey, Crimson ready to put last season's struggles behind

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Kyle Casey kept it a secret.

Sure, his family knew and so, too, did his teammates. But that was about it.

Harvard's 6-foot-7 talented sophomore would, at times, fight through tears while playing and then, following the game, exchange his sneakers for a walking boot.

"I didn't want anyone to know," Casey said. "I didn't want any excuses."

Kyle Casey, returning from a broken foot, says Harvard is ready to dominate next season. (Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletics)  
Kyle Casey, returning from a broken foot, says Harvard is ready to dominate next season. (Photo courtesy of Harvard Athletics)    
But they were there.

Casey, a prized recruit coming off an Ivy League Rookie of the Year campaign, was supposed to help lead the Crimson to an Ivy crown and the Big Dance this past season.

"We weren't just thinking about making the NCAA tournament going into the season," Casey admits. "We were thinking about actually doing damage in it."

Then Casey broke his right foot in a workout last October -- just about a week before the official start of practice.

Six weeks on the mend -- and when he came back, he struggled, both emotionally and physically.

Nine games into his return, he looked like a shell of himself in Harvard's win at Boston College, finishing with just five points in 25 minutes. However, he had his moments, such as a 17-point, 13-rebound effort against Columbia at home on Jan. 28.

Then it happened again against Cornell in late January.

In an identical manner, as he began to explode off his foot, Casey felt it.

"I didn't say anything right away," Casey admitted. "I finished the game and got X-rays a few days later. They said I broke it again."

Exact same break, exact same bone.

Casey was given the option to call it a season or fight through the pain and try and help his team win its first-ever Ivy League title.

It wasn't much of a decision for Casey.

He was erratic for much of the remainder of the season, yet few outside of his own locker room understood why he was struggling, why he didn't have his normal explosiveness that is nearly impossible to miss in a league that just doesn't possess many high-level athletes such as Casey. The foot surgery was in his rear-view mirror -- five months behind -- yet Casey still didn't quite look like himself.

The mental aspect was wearing on him as well with Casey not understanding that, at times, he was hurting the team on the floor -- playing fatigued, just trying to battle through the pain.

Eventually, it came to a head during a heated meeting with Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker.

"I didn't want to hear what he was telling me, but it was helpful," Casey said.

The Crimson wound up finishing the regular season in a deadlock with Princeton, sharing the Ivy League crown, and Casey's overall numbers actually improved from his freshman campaign. However, Harvard missed out on an NCAA tournament bid after an emotional 63-62 loss to the Tigers in a one-game playoff.

Casey finished with just seven points in the loss -- one in which the Crimson led with 2.8 seconds left on the clock.

"We were close," Casey said. "But in my mind, we haven't accomplished anything yet."

Harvard returns everyone. I mean everyone, from Casey and leading scorer Keith Wright all the way down to Dee Giger, who averaged 2.6 minutes per game.

The Crimson will be the heavy favorites in the Ivy this season, especially with their most talented player back at 100 percent.

Casey had surgery immediately after the season ended and was cleared this past week to play pickup.

"I wasn't myself this past year," Casey finally admitted. "Mentally I'm back to where I was a year ago -- and physically I'm close."

Casey and his teammates have deemed this year "Kill Season."

"The word is dominate," Casey said.

Harvard will get a chance to see if it can play with the big boys right out of the gate when the Crimson go to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis -- a Thanksgiving tournament that also includes defending national champion Connecticut and likely Top 25 team Florida State.

"Honestly, I think we can win every game on our schedule," Casey said.

The loss to Princeton remains in the forefront of Casey and his teammates' minds, so much so that when the players are lifting weights, players will just yell out "2.8."

"We were that close," Casey said. "Literally 2.8 seconds away."

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