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Harvard star Siyani Chambers determined to make up for lost season

November 17, 2016

Siyani Chambers saw an opening, as slight as it was, and went full steam ahead.

It was two weeks ago as Harvard was hosting MIT. It was just an exhibition game, but these days, every game carries more meaning for Chambers. Even exhibitions.

So when Chambers saw two Engineers in front of him, he was unfazed. He split the defenders at full speed and got fouled as he crashed through. His momentum caused him to fall forward and he slid several feet on his stomach.

Given Chambers’ injury history, when he falls, you hold your breath. But the point guard popped up, checked himself briefly and carried on.

Later there was further proof Chambers was back. He fired a bullet pass across the court to Seth Towns, who scored a layup and a subsequent foul shot. Chambers screamed and pumped his fist four times.

These days, it just means a little more.

Season torn away

In the spring of last year, it took almost three months for Chambers to realize he had an injury that would keep him out all of last season.

Chambers was in Portland, Oregon, in June 2015 for his internship when he hurt himself playing recreationally, but he didn’t think much of it. Chambers suspected it might have been an ACL injury, so he consulted a friend who had suffered one. Chambers wasn’t experiencing any of those symptoms, so he stopped worrying about that.

One doctor even told him it was just a pulled hamstring.

More than two months later things changed. Chambers returned home to Minnesota, where he finally got an MRI. It revealed his worst fear — it was a torn ACL. Chambers’ senior season would have to be put on hold.

“I was devastated, I was heartbroken,” Chambers said. “I was thinking about, ‘Will I ever be able to play again? Will I be the same player?’?”

His brother Komali, who plays at Boston University, was home with him when he got the news. He said Siyani was atypically emotional.

“You could definitely see it on his face,” Komali Chambers said. “He was almost about to cry and then he went up to his room and I don’t think I talked to him for the rest of the day.”

It wasn’t long before Chambers accepted his reality. He didn’t have a choice.

“I really give a lot of credit to my brother and my parents who were like, ‘Listen, this is not the end of the world,’?” Siyani Chambers said. “There’s steps you can take to come back.”

It took some time, but Chambers did just that. Because the Ivy League doesn’t allow medical redshirts, Chambers had to withdraw from the university to preserve his eligibility. He had his surgery in Minnesota and spent a few months there to start the rehabilitation.

In January, Chambers returned to Boston to continue the process. Every Wednesday, he went to Mass. General for rehab and he worked out by himself the other days.

But Chambers couldn’t stay away from his team. You couldn’t blame him.

He was allowed to watch practices, but was prohibited from participating. After practices, he would try to huddle with teammates to talk shop. But it wasn’t the same.

Luckily for him, he had an outlet. To keep his mind off things, Chambers did some babysitting for Rev.??Jonathan Walton of Harvard Divinity School.

“I was really grateful that he did that because it was very lonely at home and to get back out here, it helped me a lot,” Chambers said. “I think I got a lot out of it. I think I really grew and matured with that.”

While he got to do things he normally wouldn’t if he were playing basketball — he went to Fort Lauderdale for spring break, for instance — there was a piece missing. As he watched the NCAA tournament and saw Yale go on its run, he itched for his return to the court.

Chambers was finally cleared to play in May, and he and Komali went to a hometown gym to train together.

Slowly but surely, Chambers gained full strength, and more importantly, confidence, in his knee, but not before a brief scare.

“On the first day .?.?. he went up for a layup and I hit him,” Komali Chambers said. “There was a point where we both were scared for a little bit, but he popped right up, so that’s when I knew he was ready.

“Ever since then, I can see it now. He has no fear on his knee.”

‘Undisputed leader’

When it comes to quantifying his value to the Crimson, there’s no debate on Chambers, whom coach Tommy Amaker has called the “undisputed leader” of his team.

The praise never ends for the point guard, who led Harvard to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances before his injury.

“I don’t know how else to say it, but there’s no one else in this country — I don’t care how big, how athletic, how this, that and there — I would rather go to war with than Siyani Chambers,” teammate Zena Edosomwan said. “I don’t hesitate when I say that.”

In that first game back against MIT, Chambers didn’t waste any floor time to reflect on the year-long journey that got him back on the court. It came afterward.

“We were in the locker room and guys were congratulating me on my first game back,” Chambers said. “That’s when I started to realize, ‘Wow. This was my first game in a long time.’?”

The journey back is complete, and finally, Chambers is playing again.

These days, that’s all he can ask for.

“I’m relieved, grateful, blessed, thankful for a lot of people that helped me through the process,” Chambers said. “I’m grateful that I get the opportunity to play again.”