The Difference a Year Makes

Harvard will only go as far as their freshman guard Siyani Chambers can take them.
With Ivy League play on the horizon, Harvard will only

go as far as their freshman guard Siyani Chambers can take them.

Dee Giger was Harvard”s hype man last season—the final person to greet the starters during player introductions. It”s a relatively new role in basketball but already commonplace.

Part motivator, part cheerleader, the hype man defines a team”s personality; he safeguards its swagger and stokes its confidence through the highs and lows of each game. Giger owned the role. Knowing he”d see little court time, he honed his arsenal of handshakes, chest bumps, and towel waves the way other players refined their jumpers. It was ridiculous, and it was fun.

With Steve Moundou-Missi taking the reins as hype man this season, the pre game ceremonies have become a joyless routine of perfunctory fist bumps. No flying hip checks. No salutes. No Bernie”s. In some ways, this one minute before the game reflects the greatest difference between last season”s Crimson squad and this season”s.

Last year, the camaraderie was palpable pre-tip, and that togetherness was borne out in a team approach on the court. The offense was predicated on sharing the

ball, and, as a result, all of the starters were a threat to carry the scoring load on a given night; on the other end of the floor, the defense was a suffocating synchrony of individual effort, like five fingers forming a fist. This season, the pre game festivities are markedly more sober. The team chemistry has the whiff of a first date. And as such, the humming efficiency of a year ago—bred by familiarity and the Crimson”s esprit de corps (and, of course, by talent)—has at times been replaced by grinding gears on the offensive and defensive ends.

The dearth of low-post options for this season”s Harvard team has placed an enormous burden on Wes Saunders and Siyani Chambers, who have been on the court for 88.8% and 94.2% of the time, respectively. If either one of them plays poorly, the Crimson stand little chance of winning—a far cry from 2011-12, when Harvard”s stars could defer to one another on an off night. This high premium on two players has altered the identity of Harvard basketball, completely inverting the team-individual dynamic (a tough identity for any hype man—the ultimate team player—to carry). Even the experience of watching the Crimson play is different. Tune into any Harvard game and listen as the announcers get a sense of Harvard. Their praise of the Crimson”s ball movement at the start almost always turns into breathless admiration for the play of Chambers or Saunders.

Although rec coaches and talking heads have conditioned basketball fans to think of the team approach as somehow better or more worthy, this two-dimensional Harvard squad is, I think, more fun to watch. Unlike last season”s Crimson machine with its interchangeable cogs—balanced and proficient across the board—this team is visibly flawed, its leading roles pre-assigned. So each time the ball is tipped, the drama of being the hero or the goat unfolds for Harvard”s young duo. It”s a fine line and not necessarily a great recipe for success, but, through 12 games, it”s been the source of serious entertainment.

2 thoughts on “The Difference a Year Makes

  1. Mr. Banks……

    I case you haven’t been keeping up with Ivy round ball literature, no one is crying for you guys. At least your squad is competitive and entertaining. The Harvard faithful better hope that Chambers doesn’t go down because he is all that separates the Crimson from the rest of a terribly mediocre League. In a poor year, the title is yours to lose.

  2. “…suffocating synchrony…” to “…visibly flawed…” One can only hope! While I am one of the many followers of IHO who is not crying for the Crimson, I do appreciate your skill with the keyboard. Amaker’s reliance on Chambers for 40 minutes a night, however necessary, will be difficult to maintain, especially when the back-to-back schedule kicks in. The 7-5 record could very easily be 8-2 and does not, therefore, accurately reflect the team’s ability. (Sorry, AQ, but the same could not be said for your 2-9)It should be even easier for the Crimson to go 12-2 this year, and that will be more than enough for a third straight Ivy crown.

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