Crimson's Casey has no regrets

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- It didn't quite come down to one versus the other.

When he was being recruited out of Brimmer & May, Kyle Casey had three schools at the top of his list: Harvard, the Harvard of the West and the Harvard of the South. That's the order the schools ended up in, with Harvard edging out Stanford (Harvard of the West) and Vanderbilt (Harvard of the South).

"I couldn't be happier with my decision to come to Harvard and play for Coach Amaker," Casey said. "I was happy that our team's name was called. That it was Vandy, I knew there'd be a little story behind that."

The story is that Casey was one of the first top recruits to choose Tommy Amaker's program over schools like Stanford and Vanderbilt -- also top academic institutions but ones with more of a track record of athletic success.

"They're both good universities and I'm just looking forward to the matchup," Casey said.

The Crimson will face the Commodores at 4:40 p.m. on Thursday in the NCAA tournament second round in Albuquerque, N.M.

"It's interesting how everything comes full circle," said the junior forward, who was named to the All-Ivy first team in 2011-12. "We've had other recruits we've lost to schools like [Vanderbilt]. I actually got a text about 30 seconds after our name was announced to play Vanderbilt, from a good friend of mine, Rod Odom, who plays for Vanderbilt.

"So it's interesting how all the storylines kinda align themselves and come around."

The message from Odom?

"He said, 'I'll see you soon,'" Casey said with a smile.

For the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Casey, the opportunity to get a Harvard education and to make history on the basketball court was too much to pass up. He bought into the vision Amaker was selling -- that of a successful, defense- and team-first program at a world-class university.

Of a chance to be one of the first to do something at a place that has made its share of history.

And while there have been definite highs and lows, the Crimson have made history the past three seasons.

In 2009-10, they won 21 games -- the first time in Harvard history with more than 20 wins in a season -- and appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. In 2010-11, they won 23 games -- breaking the previous season's record for wins in a season -- claimed a share of the first Ivy League title in school history and played in the NIT after losing a playoff game for the Ivy League's NCAA tournament berth to Princeton on Douglas Davis' buzzer-beater.

And in 2011-12, they won 26 games -- setting a new record for the third straight season -- won the first outright Ivy title in school history and secured the Ivy's automatic bid to the Big Dance with a 12-2 conference record. During the season, the Crimson were ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in school history, ranking as high as No. 21.

There are still firsts to be achieved. Harvard's NCAA appearance is the second in school history and first since 1946. The Crimson lost both games they played in '46, to Ohio State and to NYU.

So if Casey & Co. can upset No. 5 Vanderbilt on Thursday, they will make more history with the school's first NCAA tournament win.

To get there, the Crimson will have to find a way to defend John Jenkins (20.0 points per game, 16th most in the nation) and to stop Festus Ezeli (6-11, 255 pounds) down low.

"I think it'll be a great matchup," Casey said. "It'll be a great game. They have a great team. And they're hot right now. I think we're really gonna have to buckle up and lock down and play our game to come out of there with a win."

The Commodores come into the tournament about as hot as any team in the country. Kevin Stallings' team went to the SEC tournament in New Orleans and won three straight, beating Georgia and Ole Miss and upsetting overall No. 1 seed Kentucky for the title.

"They're playing really well right now, they seem to really have a good rhythm going and things like that," Casey said. "So we're gonna prepare as best we can and hopefully come out of there with a win."

And while Casey said it'll be fun to see some of the guys he knows on the Vandy roster and the coaches who recruited him, there's no second-guessing going on.

"I made my decision and it's been great," he said. "I'm at the Harvard. So there's no beating that."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.