SALT LAKE CITY – Lin-sanity is taken. How about Siyan-sational?
Already the most decorated freshman point guard in Harvard history, Siyani Chambers said he has learned a lot about leading a team from watching and hearing coaches talk about Jeremy Lin, whose tweet celebrating the Crimson’s stunning upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico in the NCAA West Regional on Thursday included a picture of him in a sleeveless Harvard basketball T-shirt and his hands arranged as 3-point goggles.
Lin’s message: “YYYYYEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!! HARVARD winssss!!! hahahahhah i told you.”
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Chambers was more subdued in triumph, but his five points and seven assists came at critical times in the Crimson’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory, which set up a game against No. 6 seed Arizona on Saturday. He has shown leadership usually reserved for elders, teammates say.
Chambers said that is his personality — and also Lin rubbing off.
“I didn’t really follow him much at Harvard, but when he started playing for the Knicks and he started blowing up … after all that, I really started following him. I even tried to go back and watch some game film of him when he was playing at Harvard, but I didn’t really get to see much in person,” Chambers said.
The lessons learned were not just related to the proper way to attack a mid-court double team.
“It was how he commanded and led the team all the time,” he said. “Coach always talks about in practice, he would go just as hard as he did in the games. That is something I really took to heart, so I try to go out every practice and practice as hard as I can so there is no difference between a game and practice.”
At 6-foot and 170 pounds, Chambers is three inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than Lin, now averaging 13 points and six assists for the Houston Rockets in his third NBA season.
But Chambers accomplished something that no other Harvard player had done by becoming the Ivy League’s Freshman of the Year and the first conference freshman ever selected to the all-league first team. He is averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 assists in 38 minutes a game, the most among NCAA freshmen.
“He’s the leader on our team,” senior Christian Webster said. “Laurent (Rivard) and I are the captains, but he’s the leader. He’s drove this team. He’s done everything he could possibly do for this team, and I don’t know where we would be without him.”
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker saw Chambers play in a junior varsity game at Minneapolis-area Hopkins High while recruiting current Marquette senior Trent Lockett, among others. About a week later, Chambers said, he got his first recruiting letter, addressed from Amaker. Chambers was 14. He Googled Amaker, an NCAA champion point guard at Duke in 1986, and grew excited when he saw the similarities in their games. Chambers cemented the relationship when he committed early.
Chambers was thrust into the starting lineup this season after Brandyn Curry withdrew from school during an investigation into academic improprieties that implicated more than 100 students, some of them athletes.
“I did not think this is what I would be stepping into, but I’m glad I came here. I’m glad this happened,” Chambers said.
“It’s been exciting and hectic all at the same time. Coming off the win, you feel pure joy. We’ve come a long way. The season has been up and down. To come here and accomplish what we always wanted to accomplish is a great task. It’s also been crazy, because everybody has been calling in and texting. And you also had to get to sleep, because you have a game coming up.
“It was a little tough to manage, but we were eventually able to get some sleep.”