Ivy League favorite Harvard will be without two of its key players for the start of the season.
Head coach Tommy Amaker spoke to reporters on Friday and indicated that reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns and starting point guard Bryce Aiken will both remain out indefinitely with knee injuries. While Aiken has been battling knee injuries since being limited to only 14 games last season, the injury to Towns remains a bit more of a mystery.
In the Ivy League Conference Tournament title game last season, Towns sustained a knee injury with 8:20 left in the second half as Penn went on to ultimately win the game and claim the league’s NCAA tournament autobid. Towns also missed Harvard’s next contest when they lost in the opening round of the NIT to Marquette.
Now that Amaker has indicated that Aiken and Towns will remain out, it’s going to be one of the key subplots to watch in this early college basketball season. The duo combined to average slightly over 30 points per game last season as the Crimson have huge expectations heading into this season.
Harvard is already used to playing (and playing well) without Aiken. But the loss of Towns could be huge — especially since we don’t know the severity of his injury. With the Crimson returning nearly its entire core from a team that just missed making the NCAA tournament, Harvard needs both of those guys back and healthy if they want to meet the high preseason expectations.
Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.
According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.
Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.
These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.
Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.
But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.
This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.
Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.
Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.
The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.
John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.
ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.
Yale’s Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor after next season
According to a source, he committed to Baylor after taking a visit in April.
Mason was the Ivy League Preseason Player of the Year but missed all of this past season due to a foot injury he suffered during a scrimmage. An archaic Ivy League rule prohibits student-athletes from redshirting due to athletic reasons. Student-athletes can apply for a fifth year but only if it’s based on academic reasons. It is the Ancient Eight’s way of emphasizing academics over athletics.
There’s a loophole, though. Withdrawing from the university and being readmitted for the following fall semester preserves that year of eligibility. Alex Rosenberg dropped out of Columbia in October 2014 when he suffered a fracture in his right foot only to return for his senior season next fall. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers did the same thing, leaving school after tearing his ACL two summers ago. However, both of those injuries were at least conveniently timed. By the time Mason suffered his season-ending injury he was more than halfway through the semester.
The plan of finishing out the school year — and his undergraduate at Yale — and becoming an eventual graduate transfer was in his best interest. Mason, who declared for the NBA Draft in 2016 without hiring an agent, gets to earn a degree from an Ivy League school and then can use his final season of eligibility to prepare for the 2019 NBA Draft at a high-major school.
I’m sure any talks about Mason’s inevitable departure weren’t some of the best conversations the Yale coaching staff had but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of strained relationship. Two weeks ago, he was named the captain of this year’s team.
For Baylor, this is obviously a tremendous addition, especially with Manu Lecomte exhausting his eligibility at the end of the 2017-18 season.
Scott Drew and the Bears are very familiar with the type of offensive firepower Mason will bring to the program. He did hang 31 points on Baylor back in 2016 when the Bulldogs upset the Bears, 79-75, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Ivy League Tournament will stay at The Palestra in 2018
The Ivy League Tournament will return to The Palestra in Philadelphia in 2018, the league announced on Thursday afternoon.
The Palestra was the site of the first-ever Ivy League postseason this past March. A four-team tournament saw Princeton advance to the 2017 NCAA Tournament, capping an unbeaten season within the league with a 73-71 win over Yale.
“The Inaugural Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments were an unequivocal success,” said Executive Director Robin Harris in a statement. “We featured the tremendous talent of our basketball student-athletes in an electric atmosphere, and we look forward to an even better event in 2018.”
Holding an event at one of the cathedrals of college basketball was a no-brainer. But once Penn earned the final spot in the tournament, it took away the neutral site setting. Imagine if Princeton, 14-0 in league play, lost to the lowest-seeded team in the field because the game was played on Penn’s full-time home court?
The press release added that the league is evaluating other venues for 2019.
It’ll be interesting to see what the league does following this season. The Palestra is not only an iconic venue but it puts the conference’s postseason event in a major city. It also happens to be the biggest venue in the Ancient Eight. But that gives the Quakers a home-court advantage each and every year they qualify for the postseason.
A truly neutral host, like Springfield, Mass., the birthplace of basketball, would make sense given its basketball tradition and its centralized location in regards to the eight universities. But that would cost money, something these schools may not be interested in.
The 2018 Ivy League Tournament will be held March 10-11.
Siyani Chambers back at Harvard after a year as a ‘manny’
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.”
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.
“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.”