Siyani Chambers, currently a senior point guard on the Hopkins boys basketball team, was an eighth-grader playing on the Royals junior varsity when a recruiter from Harvard came to the gym.
The Crimson were there to see one of the varsity stars, but the Harvard staffer saw young Chambers, spoke with him and planted a seed. The message was simple: We like your game … take care of business on the court and in the classroom and someday you might go to Harvard.
Someday will arrive in the autumn of 2012 when Chambers heads to Harvard. He has not decided on a course of study, but he knows he will be a member of the basketball team at the one of the nation’s elite institutions.
“I guess I just caught their eye,” Chambers told me as he thought back to that day as an eighth-grader. The seed that was planted that day took root so firmly that Chambers made only one official recruiting visit.
“Harvard was my first and last one,” he said. The Chambers family visited Harvard in late September, and the day after they returned home Siyani called coach Tommy Amaker and committed to the Crimson.
“When I went on my visit the players were all super nice,” Siyani said. “And I was comfortable there. It was the place where I felt the most comfortable, and there are all the relationships I’ve built with the coaches and players. That just put it over the top for me. And there’s no better school than Harvard.”
Chambers will join one fellow Minnesotan on the basketball team; DeLaSalle grad Jonah Travis is a freshman forward this season. There are currently 26 Minnesotans competing on 12 Harvard athletic teams, ranging from hockey to cross-country to swimming and sailing. The Crimson women’s hockey team has the most Minnesotans with eight. (See a complete list at the end of this story.)
Siyani’s parents, Elston and Elice, have always stressed the importance of education to Siyani and his brother Kamali, who is a sophomore guard on the Hopkins varsity basketball team.
“We were reading to him as soon as he was born, and ever since then he’s always known it was academics first and whatever else second,” Elston said. “He knows after practice that he needs to do his homework.”
Siayni, who took Advanced Placement classes during his sophomore and junior years, has a 3.7 grade-point average. His current classes are Calculus, Physics and Creative Writing, and he serves as a teaching assistant in the social studies classroom of Royals head coach Ken Novak Jr.
“He’s a great student,” Novak said. “He’s a hard-working, industrious kid, very disciplined. He does well, takes all the toughest classes and he deserves to be going where he’s going.”
Several other Hopkins boys basketball products have played in the Ivy League, including Justin White (Harvard in the mid-1990s), Zach Puchtel (started at Harvard in 2001) and David Gardner, who finished his college career at Dartmouth in 2005.
“It’s pretty cool,” Novak said. “The biggest problem is that financially it can be tough. Parents have to sacrifice and Siyani’s parents are making a sacrifice for him to go, because he could get a full ride at other places. But I think they understand the value of it.”
There’s no question about that.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Elice Chambers said. “I think it was just hard work. We’ve stressed working as hard in the classroom as you do on the basketball court, and it just kind of worked out for him. He’s a fairly conscientious student.
“We wanted him to be pushed, because making the jump from high school to college is pretty tough. You want to be challenged at home so you can fail at home, as opposed to failing when you’re on your own, when you don’t really know what to do and how to handle it.”
Siyani said his parents usually required him to do his schoolwork before going to the gym.
“They pushed me early on to get not just decent grades but good grades.”
The Hopkins Royals are three-time defending Class 4A state champions and currently ranked No. 1in the state. They will take a 5-0 record into their next game, Friday at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, the top-ranked team in 3A.
The Chambers are enjoying Siyani’s last season of high school basketball and looking ahead to his college career. They probably won’t make many trips to the Boston area to see Harvard games, since Kamali is only a sophomore at Hopkins.
“We’re going to try to figure that out,” Elice said. “We may be able to make two (Harvard) games or something like that. Now our Thanksgiving plans will change; instead of having Thanksgiving in Minnesota we’ll be having Thanksgiving wherever Siyani is playing.”
MINNESOTA ATHLETES CURRENTLY AT HARVARD
--Men’s basketball: Jonah Travis, DeLaSalle
--Baseball: Joey Novak, Lakeville South
--Men’s cross-country: Paul Koullick, Blake; Stewart Richardson, Blake; Jacob Lindaas, Moorhead
--Men’s Hockey: Danny Fick, Forest Lake; Marshall Everson, Edina; Luke Greiner, Faribault
--Men’s Lacrosse: Lowell Fluke, Blake
--Men’s Sailing: Stephen Bates, Thief River Falls
--Men’s Swimming: Chris Satterthwaite, Edina
--Men’s Track: Andrew Hausmann, Rosemount; Paul Koullick, Blake; Jacob Lindaas, Moorhead; Stewart Richardson, Blake
--Women’s Hockey: Laura Bellamy, Duluth Denfeld; Hilary Hayssen, Blake; Kelsey Romatoski, Woodbury; Margaret Chute, Blake; Hillary Crowe, Blake; Gina McDonald, Irondale; Samantha Reber, Edina; Tiana Press, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
--Women’s Skiing: Alena Tofte, Duluth East; Adeline Byrne, Grand Rapids; Jen Rolfes, Edina
--Women’s Soccer: Lauren Urke, Wayzata
--Women’s Swimming: Taylor Foster, Breck; Jessica Stanchfield, Orono
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 193
*Miles John has driven: 5,189
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