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.”

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.