2014-15 Harvard basketball preview: No regrets (part 2)
College Contributor Network
Although he might not say it, this year in particular is especially important and meaningful to Amaker. Not just because the next step in the Crimson's progress would be a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Not just because Harvard is in the preseason Top 25 rankings. Not just because the team, this year, is actually, for certain, good. This year matters so much for Amaker because this year's seniors are members of his best recruiting class in his current position and the best recruiting class ever in the history of Harvard basketball.
Somehow Amaker lured the highly touted Kenyatta Smith and Wesley Saunders away from schools like Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Stanford, and USC. As a junior, Saunders won the Ivy League Player of the Year, something Lakers guard Jeremy Lin never did when he played for Harvard.
And Saunders will likely win the award again this year with no other players in the league on his level. A now imposing physical force at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, he has come a long way from the scrawny, rarely used freshman bench player who could barely dribble without losing the ball in a game against Jeremy Lamb's 2011 UConn squad.
Smith missed the 2013-14 season due to a broken bone in his left foot, and he is somewhat of an unknown entity this year. Crimson fans hope he'll be able to bounce back and provide strength in the center in tandem with improving sophomore Zena Edosomwan.
Corbin Miller has also missed time, going on a Mormon mission for the past two seasons after shooting an impressive 45% from 3-point range as a freshman. He will be called upon to replace the deft shooting of departed forward Laurent Rivard.
Jonah Travis has been a strong forward for his entire Crimson career and will see his minutes rise this season with the departure of Kyle Casey and the need for strength and grit down low.
And then there's Steve.
Whenever he does anything positive in the game, which is pretty much every play, the Harvard student section will, in unison, chant: "STEEEEEVVEEEE" over and over until nothing else is audible. Steve Moundou-Missi is the soul of the Harvard Crimson basketball team.
Whether it's dunking over now-NBA forward Adreian Payne or blocking Payne's attempt from down low, Moundou-Missi does everything for this team. He is a gamer who has the most serious demeanor on the team and a reputation for being one of the hardest workers. He is one of the two captains of this year's squad, which shows that Harvard's players -- who elect their captains -- have their heads in the right place.
But Moundou-Missi is only half of the captain tandem for the 2014-15 Crimson. Every soul needs its heart, and the heart of this team is junior point guard Siyani Chambers -- the energizer bunny, the firecracker, the sparkplug; you can use whatever cheesy descriptor you want, but there is nothing cheesy about Chambers. The man balls. He surprised everyone as a freshman, did pretty well as a sophomore with Brandon Curry back to help him at the point, and is primed for an explosive junior season.
A lot of people play the point guard position but Chambers is a rare highly talented pure point guard. His game is defined by passing, slicing through defenses with his dribbling, running the break, setting his teammates up for success, and consistently hitting big shots at key moments.
He feels the game like Shabazz Napier and competes like Damian Lillard. He takes no bullshit, demands the best of himself and his teammates, and is unsurprisingly Amaker's right-hand man. When either team is shooting free throws in a Harvard game, look over to the Crimson bench and you'll see Amaker talking to his floor general, his quarterback, his main man Chambers, unless of course Chambers is the one shooting the free throws.
Even then he'll look over to Amaker to get instruction between shots. The two have a bond that makes this talented team special and gives the Crimson the potential to make a deep run into the NCAA tournament for the first time ever this season.
In the year my grandfather graduated from Harvard, 1951, the basketball team went 9-17. Thirty years later, in my father's final year at the school, the team went 17-9 -- a complete reversal -- but did not make the NCAA tournament, losing out to LeBron James' current coach in Cleveland, David Blatt, and his dominant Princeton squad.
Jump ahead another thirty or so years to today, and Harvard hasn't won less than 20 games in a season for the past five seasons (that 2008-09 season being Amaker's second season in Cambridge and Jeremy Lin's third).
During that stretch, my grandfather passed away, but I took up the same field of study as him, English, at the same school. And my father became the die-hard Crimson Crazy that he never got to be as a student. He sends me text messages all of the time to say things like, "Damn, our team isn't that bad," and I don't tell him not to curse, because, like Amaker, it's one of the things we allow ourselves to do now.
Will my dad and I be able to share in following our basketball team for years to come? Will Harvard continue to play games on ESPN and March Madness on Demand each and every season? The rumors abound that Amaker will leave Cambridge for a place with fewer rules, lower academic standards, and more pandemonium once his trusted and son-like playmaker, Chambers, graduates in two seasons.
They're only rumors, but they make too much sense to not happen.
So the pressure is on to win. To win now.
At his event in an old, classic Harvard room, Amaker told the students in attendance, and Dean Smith, that each season he and his staff pick one slogan, one idea for the team to think about and build their season around. Last year was largely about reintegrating the previously suspended Curry and Casey back into the squad and making sure that they and Rivard went out with a bang.
Then, the slogan was: Good teams have good players. Great teams have great teammates.
I may just be an emotional college senior, but my reaction was: Cool. Whatever. That could be the slogan of any team, anywhere, ever.
This year is different. This season is on another level. Its slogan is simply: No regrets.
Jake Montgomery is a senior at Harvard University majoring in English. Raised in Philadelphia and a lover of the beautiful game since '06, he is a huge fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Georgetown and Harvard basketball, Chelsea FC, Neymar, Steph Curry, Shabazz Napier, and Kanye West. Follow him on Twitter: @TheFloorGeneral