With the season about to tip off, the Harvard men’s basketball team is working to answer the question on everyone’s mind: What will the team do without Siyani Chambers?
Chambers withdrew from Harvard in September for the academic year after an ACL injury he suffered during the offseason. On Wednesday in the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Preseason Media Teleconference, coach Tommy Amaker discussed the cloud hanging over the team, noting that his star had undergone ACL surgery three weeks ago.
“Everything is on schedule and everything is looking great. He’s out from surgery and on to the next stage of rehab,” Amaker said.
The injury, which occurred during a summer workout, was not initially thought to be too serious. Immediately following the incident, Chambers took a break from working out in hopes that the injury was minor, but when he eventually saw a doctor it was realized to be something more substantial.
With a few extra opinions, the diagnosis that emerged was that Chambers would require ACL surgery. In order to preserve his year of eligibility with the Crimson, Chambers chose to withdraw for the 2015-2016 academic year.
“He wanted to come back and finish here,” Amaker said. “I thought it was just a heck of a testament to our university and to our program.”
The practice of forcing players to withdraw in order to maintain eligibility has spurned criticism from outside the Ancient Eight. While players in other conferences are able to attend school as they rehab their injuries and then play out their fourth year of eligibility on the court while working towards a graduate degree, the Ivy League does not allow athletes to pursue graduate degrees and compete simultaneously.
“It’s one of the most ridiculous rules in college sports.” Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk told the Crimson in September. “It’s incredibly unfair for the kid and that’s something that probably should change and knowing the Ivy League, I doubt that it ever will.”
While Chambers is on the road to recovery, Amaker and the rest of the Harvard team must find a way to fill the many voids that the former Ivy Rookie of the Year leaves. Given that the offense would have been run through Chambers this year had the injury not occurred, Amaker has been forced to consider other options.
“I think the bulk of the load is going to have to be handled by [freshman] Tommy McCarthy,” Dauster said. “I don’t think Tommy McCarthy is going to be able to play 40 minutes a game so they’re going to have to find someone to get minutes there, but I think the lion’s share of the work is going to have to be done by McCarthy.”
McCarthy, a three-star recruit from Carlsbad, Calif, started at point during Harvard’s Crimson Madness event last week for the Crimson squad, playing opposite junior Matt Fraschilla, who ran the offense for the black team. Junior Corbin Miller got some reps in Chambers’ shoes when Fraschilla went to the bench, but the Utah native is known more for his shooting than his ball handling skills.
During the teleconference, Amaker was questioned on whether he thought there was potential for any of the current freshman to have a season like Chambers did during his rookie campaign, in which made an immediate impact when Harvard was without the services of Brandyn Curry ’14-’15 and Kyle Casey ’14-’15 during the 2012-2013 season. During that year, Chambers averaged just over 12 points in 38 minutes per game as he started all 30 contests.
“Do we have a Siyani on the roster? No we don’t,” Amaker said. “I don’t think we have anyone that is going to have the historic year that he had as a freshman….Asking someone to do those things is probably unfair.”
In addition to Chambers’ playing strengths, his leadership presence on and off the court will also be missed by the young group, which added six freshman to the roster this season. This adds to a team with only three seniors, one of whom—Patrick Steeves—who has yet to see a minute of action in his collegiate career.
“We’re hopeful that [junior Zena Edosomwan and senior Evan Cummins] can lead the way for our ball club in addition to Agunwa Okolie who is a senior for us this year on the perimeter,” Amaker said. “Those three guys in particular, we are going to lean on heavily for experience…. We are as young as we’ve ever been here.”
Amaker wasn’t the only coach to weigh in on Chambers’ absence during the teleconference. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, whose team was picked No. 2 in the Preseason Media Poll, noted that ultimately, the best overall team will win the Ivy title, not the one with the best individual player.
“I know injuries take a big effect on teams,” Henderson said. “I do think that the league is quite strong, and while there are certain players that are key to those teams, I do think it’s the best team that’s going to fight it out to the end.”
The Crimson will certainly have plenty of fighting to do if it is to continue its reign as Ivy Title holders.