With Siyani Chambers out, the Crimson’s future remains uncertain.
In early September, the Harvard basketball team received some devastating news: they would be losing senior point guard and co-captain Siyani Chambers to an ACL tear. Chambers will take the 2015-2016 year off both academically and athletically to recover from the injury, retaining his last year of eligibility. The Crimson, who last year shared the Ivy League title and advanced to the NCAA tournament after a playoff with Yale, will have a tough time filling the place of Chambers. Senior Agunwa Okolie agrees, “[Siyani] was our most important player.” On a team predicted on their ability to defend on one end and take care of the ball on the other (Harvard gave up only 7 turnovers compared to UNC’s 18 in their two-point season ending loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament), Chambers was at the helm of it all.
In 2014-2015, Chambers averaged 9.9 ppg, 4.3 apg. He had a team-high 34.5 minutes per game and was the Crimson’s leading free-throw shooter at 81.4%. The question now stands: who will fill the void left by Chambers?
Okolie doesn’t feel like it will be one person. “You can’t really replace Siyani because of the impact he’s had since he’s been here. It’ll be a team effort to fill his shoes.” Okolie admits, however, that the Crimson will miss Chambers on the defensive end. “We’ll lose a little bit of quickness.” Chambers averaged 1.5 SPG last season, second to only Wesley Saunders (who has since graduated), but Okolie remains hopeful that the Crimson will keep their defensive poise. “We’ve got to communicate. Obviously we’ve got to stay in shape as well. But as long as we stick to our defensive principles, I think we should be fine.” When asked about who would assume the starting point guard position, Okolie responded, “We don’t really know yet. We haven’t really had our first official practice so the lineup is pretty unclear. Obviously, Tommy’s a point guard, but we’ll see.”
Tommy McCarthy was one of Harvard’s backcourt recruits this past year and could prove to be key in making up for Siyani’s absence. A 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard out of La Costa Canyon High School in Southern California, McCarthy averaged 19.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.1 rbg, and 1.3 spg in his senior season, according to MaxPreps.com. As fate would have it, his freshman year at Harvard is shaping up to be just like Chambers’.
In 2012, starting point guard and senior Brandyn Curry announced he would be taking that year off of school, and so a young Chambers filled the spot that was left. In his first season, Chambers became one of the most pivotal players for the Crimson. He averaged 12.4 ppg and a team high 5.7 apg on his way to an Ivy League title and an incredible tournament run that saw a No. 14 Harvard upset No. 3 New Mexico. Chambers hasn’t slowed down since, being the team’s second leading scorer the past three years. When asked about the parallel between the two players, Okolie answered, “[Tommy] has the opportunity to do the same thing as Siyani and play really well. I’m looking forward to seeing how he grows.”
Nonetheless, with Chambers gone, the Crimson will be without all three top scorers and minute-getters from last year (Steve Mondou-Missi and Wesley Saunders both graduated in 2015). When asked how he and senior captain Evan Cummins will rally the team together, Okolie affirmed, “We’re just telling them that everyone has to be ready. Upperclassmen are taking a larger leadership role. Evan, Corbin, Zena, and I have just been more vocal in the weight room and during practice. It’s going to be a tough season, but everyone has to seize the opportunity to show people what we’re made of.” Junior point guard Matt Fraschilla could see increased minutes with Chambers out, as could freshmen shooting guard Corey Johnson. Sophomores Chris Egi and Andre Chatfield could have breakout years, and the Crimson might need exactly that in order to retain their Ivy League title in a conference that is as competitive as ever.
“Every Ivy League team will give you challenges. Every team does something especially well,” Okolie admits. “Each game comes down to your team and how you play on that day. We’ve just got to stay true to our system and execute.” With the caliber of conference players like reigning MVP Justin Sears’16 of Yale and reigning scoring leader and point guard Maodo Lo’16 of Columbia, the Crimson will undoubtedly have a tougher time this year getting to the NCAA tournament, especially without Chambers.
But Okolie remains steadfast looking forward, “Our goals haven’t changed. We just have to stick to our principles and focus on ourselves. If we do that, everything will take care of itself.”
Ramtin Talebi ‘18 (email@example.com) wishes luck to both the team in the upcoming season and Chambers in his recovery.