Harvard Crimson

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 21:  Siyani Chambers #1 of the Harvard Crimson reacts after gaining possession of the ball in the second half against the New Mexico Lobos the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at EnergySolutions Arena on March 21, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Siyani Chambers back at Harvard after a year as a ‘manny’

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Reverend Jonathan L. Walton, Harvard’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, foresaw a more patient Siyani Chambers this season.

That isn’t some prophetic prediction. That virtue is required when recovering from an ACL tear, an injury that sidelined Chambers for all of last year.

But Walton says that because, for nine months, he witnessed Chambers’ patience on display inside his own household.

Due to an unusual set of circumstances – an ACL tear, which happened at his summer internship of all places, and an archaic Ivy League rule – led Chambers to become a nanny for Walton’s three children.

In the summer of 2015, Chambers was interning at adidas in Portland. While playing pickup, his left knee gave out. In September, Harvard officially announced that Chambers had torn his ACL and would subsequently take a leave of absence from the school.

Withdrawing from the university was the only option to preserve his final year of eligibility with the Crimson. There is no redshirting in the Ivy League. Staying in school and going to class burns a year of Ivy League eligibility whether or not that student is actually playing in games or even on a team. It’s the Ancient Eight’s way of saying, “academics over athletics.” Student-athletes can apply for a fifth year, but only if it’s based on academic reasons.

Players like Dartmouth’s Alex Mitola and Harvard’s Patrick Steeves elected to stay in school, earning an Ivy League education before becoming a graduate transfer – and becoming eligible immediately – at a different school in another conference. Both ended up transferring to George Washington.

But Chambers’ decision to remove himself from school isn’t uncommon. After suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot in October of 2014, Columbia’s leading scorer, Alex Rosenberg, removed himself from school before returning for his final season the following fall. Harvard’s Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were forced to take the same route in 2012 when they were linked to a widespread cheating scandal. They both re-enrolled the next year. Yale’s Makai Mason, whose broken foot will likely keep him out this season, is the latest Ivy League star that has to make this decision.

It’s a loophole, but not one many would like to exploit.

“It was definitely a tough decision,” Chambers said. “I didn’t want to take a year off from school and be away from my friends and teammates, guys who’ve I been with this whole time. Evan [Cummings], Patrick [Steeves], Agunwa [Okolie].”

“I wanted to finish out my career with them.”

The leave of absence meant Chambers couldn’t be on campus. He returned to his home in Golden Valley, Minnesota, for the fall semester as he began his rehabilitation. The plan was always to return to Cambridge in January. Chambers’ younger brother, Kamali, was in his freshman season at Boston University, and he wanted to be nearby to support him. The other reason was obvious: to be as close to the team as the NCAA rules would allow him to be.

But with the dorms off limits, where would he live?


Jonathan Walton was preparing to go on sabbatical at University of Penn, where he would be doing academic research for a book about ethical readings of The Bible. This meant leaving his wife, Cecily, as the sole caretaker of their three children: 12-year-old twins Elijah and Zora, and 4-year-old Baldwin.

“When I was preparing to go on sabbatical, our previous nanny got another job,” Walton said. “It was about the same time Siyani got hurt. I was talking to him, and he was explaining to me that he had to go home. The only way he could stay he was to have a job. And of course, to find a job and find a place to live and pay rent in Cambridge is just unthinkable. He told me, ‘In a perfect world I can just stay here [on campus], but I can’t stay in the dorms.’ So I went home and had a conversation with my wife, Cecily, and I said, ‘Siyani needs a job. I wonder if he can help you out.’ And she said, ‘Great idea. Ask him to see if he’s interested.’

“I asked him, ‘Do you want to become a nanny?’ It was as simple as that. And he was like, ‘Sure. Absolutely.’”

And like that, arguably the most decorated player in Harvard basketball history became a “manny.”


Chambers and Walton both began their time with the Harvard basketball program in the fall of 2012. Chambers was a freshman point guard Amaker and his staff fervently pursued, and Walton, head of the Memorial Church, was beginning a stint as the faculty fellow for the team.

Just before the fall semester, Harvard was rocked by the academic scandal that Jay Harris, the Dean of Undergraduate Education, called, “unprecedented in its scope and magnitude.” Harvard announced that nearly half – 125 students in total – of the Introduction to Congress class from the previous spring was being investigated for a take-home final. They were suspected of cheating, or worse, plagiarizing answers on the exam.

Despite multiple teams being represented in the course, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, two stars from Amaker’s budding basketball program, seemed to grab all of the headlines. In all 70 students withdrew from school, including Casey and Curry.

Walton, who had hosted an annual season tip-off, in which he invited all the players into his home, decided to start ‘Basketball Sunday.’

“We bring in the men’s and women’s teams,” Walton said. “One of the reasons was for members of the larger community can get to know these kids as human beings and what kind of standup individuals they are and that these are just nice thoughtful kids. And that sort of came out of the negative attention that Harvard basketball received during that whole ‘cheating scandal’ that wasn’t.”

“Of course that was something that impacted a lot of teams, but because of the basketball team’s success, two basketball players were featured. It was something that really upset me because these kids were thrown out there.”

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 22: Siyani Chambers #1 of the Harvard Crimson reacts in the second half against the Michigan State Spartans during the Third Round of the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 22, 2014 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Harvard’s Siyani Chambers (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Who better than the affable Chambers to lead the integration of the basketball team into the wider Harvard community?

“He is a fan favorite,” Walton added. “But one of the reasons he’s a fan favorite isn’t just because he’s fast as lightning. One of the reasons he’s a fan favorite is because everyone knows him as that nice, smiling kid. He’s always talking to children. You can stop and hold a conversation with him.”

That engagement he had with fellow students, faculty and children is why Chambers was invited into Walton’s home this past year.


Chambers moved on the third floor of the Waltons’ on-campus residence. His daily duties involved getting the children ready for school, shuttling Elijah to theatre practice and Zora to track practice. He’d go out and pick up dinner (“He can’t cook a lick,” Walton says), and help the kids with homework. He also became versed with PAW Patrol, a Nickelodeon cartoon about rescue dogs.

“We often didn’t know who was having more fun with all the PAW Patrol toys, whether it was Siyani or Baldwin,” Walton said.

“I think every day was funny and entertaining in its own way,” Chambers added. “I’m really glad I had that opportunity.”

With Elijah, Zora and Baldwin in school most of the day, it allowed for Chambers to rehab, either on his own or at Massachusetts General Hospital.

While he couldn’t be with the team, he could easily be spotted behind the bench during homes games at Lavietes Pavilion.

“He handled it beautifully,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. “Didn’t surprise me at all.”

“As you can imagine our focus was geared toward our guys, as long as we knew Siyani was in a good place.”

With no games or practices to participate in, Chambers’ competitiveness was reserved for Walton Family game night, whether it they were playing Monopoly and Pictionary.

“He found himself yelling and screaming and throwing pieces when he was losing,” Walton said. “I got a sense of what his teammates felt like.”

“Siyani would stand up and be like, ‘Boy what’s wrong with you?’ He was hyper-competitive and on the other hand he was hyper-compassionate, especially with my youngest son. I think it helped his temperament and patience.”


Chambers was fully cleared over the summer, but naturally, it took almost two additional months for him to feel comfortable with his surgically repaired knee.

After the graduation of Wesley Saunders and season-ending injury suffered by Chambers, the Crimson fell to a 14-16 (6-8) record, good for a fourth-place finish in the Ivy League last season. Harvard returns all-Ivy League forward Zena Edosomwan, as well as Corey Johnson. Amaker also brought in a freshman class that includes three players in the Rivals Top 150.

Princeton was voted as the preseason favorite, but Harvard is certainly a contender, as is defending champion Yale despite the loss of Makai Mason. This March, Chambers could cap his career as the most decorated player in program history. He could potentially appear in four NCAA Tournaments and finish top-10 in scoring and top-5 in assists and steals.

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 22: Head coach Tommy Amaker talks to Siyani Chambers #1 of the Harvard Crimson in the first half against the Michigan State Spartans during the Third Round of the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 22, 2014 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker and Siyani Chambers (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

“I’ve always said this about him, he’ll go down as arguably the most important player that we’ve ever had,” Amaker said. “He’s always been the most important player on our team. He hasn’t always been the best player. But there’s never been anyone as important since he’s been here with the role he plays, the position he plays, the production he’s given.”

“He’s the smartest player I’ve been around since Shane Battier.”

In a losing effort on Friday night against Stanford, in a season-opener played in Shanghai, Chambers showed no real rust, scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds and recording four assists (committing zero turnovers).

This year’s roster features almost double the freshmen and sophomores as it does upperclassmen. He’s dealing with a different kind of youth this year.

There would be times in the Walton household where Chambers would look at Elijah, Zora and Baldwin and reminisce about what he was like at their ages. And it’s possible that when he looks at a freshman like Bryce Aiken or a sophomore like Corey Johnson, he’s reminded of what he was like his first few years in college.

“When you’re a freshman or a sophomore, you’re just trying to ‘Go, go, go,’” Chambers said. “But now as a senior, I just want to take in my last year and enjoy every minute of it.”

VIDEO: Columbia beats Harvard on Alex Rosenberg buzzer-beater

Columbia forward Alex Rosenberg reacts after missing a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  Northwestern won in overtime 83-80. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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Harvard’s hopes of making a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament took a significant hit this weekend, as the Crimson dropped home games against Cornell and Columbia. Saturday night’s loss to Columbia, one of the preseason favorites to win the Ivy League, came as a result of Alex Rosenberg’s fadeaway as time expired.

Rosenberg’s shot capped a wild comeback for the Lions, who trailed by as much as 20 in the first half and by a score of 33-16 at the half.

Harvard’s now 1-3 in Ivy League play, a full three games behind Columbia and Yale. While it is early in league play, the fact that the Ivy doesn’t have a conference tournament (they label their conference slate as the “14-game tournament”) makes these regular season games that much more important.

Video credit: Ivy League Digital Network

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 3 Oklahoma takes Diamond Head Classic crown

Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard, left, dribbles past Harvard guard Tommy McCarthy, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic, Friday, Dec. 25, 2015, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 3 Oklahoma 83, Harvard 71

Trailing by two at the half, the third-ranked Sooners went on a 21-0 run to take control of the Diamond Head Classic title game. Buddy Hield scored 34 points and Jordan Woodard added 28 for Lon Kruger’s team, but can they be a national title contender? Read more about those possibilities here.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Hawai’i 79, Auburn 67: Roderick Bobbitt reached the 30-point mark for the second straight game, scoring 30 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line (he scored 32 on Oklahoma Wednesday night), to lead the Rainbow Warriors to third place at the Diamond Head Classic. The depth advantage for Eran Ganot’s team, which also received 21 and eight boards from Stefan Jankovic, is why they were able to close the game on a 19-4 run.

Horace Spencer and Tyler Harris both fouling out for Auburn, and Kareem Canty had to spend some time on the bench in the second half with four fouls. Canty led the Tigers 22 points, bouncing back from his 1-for-15 outing against Auburn, and Bryce Brown added 20.

BYU 84, Northern Iowa 76: Dave Rose’s Cougars picked up a quality win for their resume in the Diamond Head Classic’s fifth-place game, using a 19-2 first half run to establish the distance needed to hold off the Panthers. Chase Fischer scored 26 points, hitting four more three-pointers, and Kyle Collinsworth tallied 12 points, 17 rebounds and six assists to lead the way for BYU. UNI scored 24 points off of 15 BYU turnovers, but their inability to hit shots (40 percent from the field) when not benefitting from Cougar mistakes proved to be the difference.

Washington State 82, New Mexico 59: The Mountain West took another hit Christmas Day, as the Lobos were blown out by Washington State in the seventh place game at the Diamond Head Classic. Josh Hawkinson, who played just seven minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, scored 12 of his 19 in the second half and as a team Wazzu shot 54.2 percent from the field and 11-for-20 from three.

Hawkinson led five Cougars in double figures. After getting off to a good start to the season the Lobos once again struggled defensively and with turnovers, and they have many kinks to work out ahead of their Mountain West opener Wednesday night.

STARRED

Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma: Hield and Woodard combined to score 62 points on 20-for-27 shooting from the field in their win over Harvard.

Zena Edosomwan, Harvard: Oklahoma did not have an answer for the Harvard big man, who tallied 25 points and 16 rebounds in a losing effort.

Chase Fischer, BYU: One game after hitting nine three-pointers Fischer hit four more, scoring 26 points in the Cougars’ win over Northern Iowa. Fischer shot 13-for-25 from three in wins over New Mexico and Northern Iowa.

Roderick Bobbitt, Hawai’i: Bobbitt shot extremely well in scoring 30 points in a win over Auburn, shooting 8-for-13 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line.

STRUGGLED

Cullen Neal, New Mexico: Things got so bad for the redshirt sophomore that he was benched for the entire second half in the Lobos’ loss to Washington State. In eight minutes Neal went scoreless and didn’t have an assist, committing five turnovers.

New Mexico’s three-point shooters: Neal wasn’t the only one who struggled, as the Lobos shot 0-for-10 from three on the day.

Patrick Steeves, Harvard: In 28 minutes off the bench Steeves made just one of his eight shots from the field, scoring two points.

Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Cousins didn’t have the night teammates Hield and Woodard had, scoring seven points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Zena Edosomwan jumps over 6-foot-10 teammate

AP
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Harvard’s Zena Edosomwan, one of returning starters from last year’s Ivy League champion, made his teammates storm the court on Friday night at Crimson Madness.

The junior forward, wearing a Michael Jordan jersey, jumped over 6-foot-10 Balsa Dragovic and two young fans for a one-handed dunk. Edosomwan followed the slam by breaking out a celebratory nae-nae before being swarmed by his teammates.

This just happened at Crimson Madness! Zena Edosomwan over the 6'10" Balsa Dragovic #GoCrimson

A video posted by Andy Towne (@sportstowne) on

Edosomwan averaged 4.0 points and 3.2 boards per game in 2014-15.

Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers out for the season with torn ACL

Siyani Chambers, Anthony Thompson
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Harvard senior point guard Siyani Chambers is taking a voluntary leave of absence and will be out for the 2015-16 season after tearing his ACL in workouts, according to a release.

Chambers has to leave school for the year because of Ivy League rules against athletic redshirts and will look to re-enroll for the 2016-17 academic year to finish out his college eligibility.

This is a huge loss for the Crimson as Chambers has been the lead guard behind a number of huge wins in the last three years. The 6-foot-0 native of Minnesota has averaged at least 34 minutes per game during all three years of college and put up 9.9 points, 4.3 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game last season.

Without Chambers, Harvard suddenly looks very inexperienced, especially in the backcourt. The Ivy League could be a wide open race now and the Crimson will have to fight to win the league’s regular season crown and NCAA tournament bid for the fifth consecutive season.

Harvard lands top 150 small forward in Class of 2016

Tommy Amaker
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Harvard landed a key commitment on Monday night as the Crimson pulled in a national top 150 caliber player. Ohio native and small forward Seth Towns committed to Harvard and the 6-foot-7 wing is a really nice grab for the Ivy League program.

A combo forward with the ability to play a bit inside as well as on the wing, getting Towns out of the Midwest is a nice grab for Harvard. Rivals rates Towns as the No. 125 overall prospect in the Class of 2016.

The Crimson now have commitments from Towns and 6-foot-8 power forward Chris Lewis. If head coach Tommy Amaker and his staff continue to get high-level players like this, they’ll continue to be a major threat in the Ivy League.