When Siyani Chambers arrived on Harvard’s campus in August, he did so without any preconceived notions about his role as a rookie on the Harvard men’s basketball team.
“I just came here to learn right away and just try to fit in where I fit in,” Chambers says. “If the coaches ask me to do something, I’ll do that to the best of my ability.”
Although the freshman point guard says that his mindset hasn’t changed since then—“There aren’t really any personal goals for me. I’m just trying to go out and do whatever I can to help the team”—the number of minutes Chambers will likely see on the court this season has skyrocketed.
On Sept. 11, Sports Illustrated reported that senior point guard Brandyn Curry, along with classmate Kyle Casey, would miss the 2012-13 campaign after withdrawing from school in the wake of the Gov 1310 cheating scandal. The departure of Curry—who led his team a year ago in assists and steals per game with 4.9 and 1.6, respectively—left the Crimson without the player who ran the offense and energized the defense for an average of over 30 minutes per game. Pair that with the additional loss of point guard Corbin Miller—who is currently serving as a missionary for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and Harvard had some serious shoes to fill in the backcourt.
All of a sudden, Chambers was the probable starter at the point. And with this newfound role comes high expectations.
“[A point guard] needs to be someone who can take control of our team, who’s going to be somewhat of a leader/coach on the floor,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker explains. “Thinking about those things right there for a freshman, that’s hard…. But those [are] things we expect out of that position.”
At 5’11” and 170 pounds, the Golden Valley, Minn. native is two inches and 25 pounds smaller than Curry. But according to his teammates, Chambers’ quickness will be an asset for the team.
“Siyani is more of a cut-em-up kind of point guard [than Curry],” co-captain Christian Webster says. “His handle is a lot quicker and tighter just because he’s so much smaller.”
Although Chambers has yet to don a Harvard uniform for regular-season action, Amaker says he’s confident in the abilities of the young guard.
“I’m not sure we’ve had a kid here in my tenure thus far coming in at a level of understanding, of a feel, of picking things up as quickly as [Chambers] has been able to,” Amaker notes. “I think his ball handling and his quickness will be welcome additions to this team.”
“He has a knack for the game that you can’t really teach,” Webster adds.
Chambers is no stranger to high-pressure moments, having led his high school team, Hopkins, to three state championships and a 122-5 record over four years.
“My high school team was pretty competitive, and we had a really good coach,” the lefty playmaker says. “I think that helped ease the transition [to college]. Before I came [to Harvard] I already knew how to work hard…. I think the trait of working hard passed over with me from high school [to] college.”
With that part of the puzzle already in place, Chambers says he can focus on adapting to the nuanced differences between high school and college basketball.
“The college pace of the game is a little faster,” he says. “I think that’s something all of the freshmen will have to get used to, just the speed of the game and the intensity that the game is played at.”
In addition to Chambers, Amaker may also look to sophomores Wesley Saunders and Alex Nesbitt to contribute at the point. Last season, Saunders chipped in 3.3 points per game in 13.9 minutes, while Nesbitt saw action in two contests.
“We need to have…whoever we call on, for whatever limit of time, whether it’s two minutes or 32 minutes, show up prepared and [feel like] we have confidence [in them]and they have confidence in their team,” Amaker says. “Whether that’s Alex Nesbitt, Wes Saunders, whoever it is, we want to feel like our guys are prepared.”
And although Amaker, a former point guard himself, admits he will be likely be “more demanding” on those at that position than any other, the coach seems optimistic as the Crimson begins the 2012-13 campaign Friday night against MIT.
“I’ve been impressed early on with Siyani, his ability to see things [on the court]…his instincts, his intelligence,” Amaker says. “He picks things up very easily, so we want to pace ourselves with him. It’s a long season, he’s a young guy, [and] it’s all brand new.”
—Staff write Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.