Harvard Leader of the Week
For the first Harvard Leader of the Week this semester, we spoke with the captain of the Harvard Crimson men’s basketball team, Evan Cummins ’16. Evan is a resident of Quincy House concentrating in Economics.
What/who inspired you to play basketball?
I started playing basketball at a very young age. I remember playing in YMCA youth leagues long before I was able to shoot on a ten-foot hoop. I used to play a different sport every season, and my dad played basketball growing up, so I tried it and was hooked immediately. As a kid playing basketball, you watch the March Madness games and dream about playing in those types of games. When I realized I had an opportunity to do that, it was a no-brainer.
What have been some challenges as captain of the Harvard men’s basketball team?
Coming into this fall, I was actually preparing myself to co-captain with our point guard and returning captain, Siyani Chambers. Having been through it before, I was looking forward to being able to lean on Siyani as he had already been through it once before as captain and I thought I could help compliment him as leaders of our team. Unfortunately, Siyani tore his ACL over the summer and withdrew from school for a year to keep his last year of eligibility. This was difficult for me as I no longer had his experience as captain to help me along, but I have been fortunate to have my fellow seniors, Agunwa Okolie and Patrick Steeves, step up and help fill Siyani’s void.
What is your favorite memory as part of the men’s basketball team?
The NCAA tournament games during March Madness, and especially the games we won, will be moments I’ll never forget. The game against New Mexico my freshman year may be the most exciting of them all because it was our first year in the tournament and nobody expected us to upset them. Many people had picked them to go to the Final Four and were already analyzing their match-ups in later rounds, completely over-looking us. New Mexico may have fallen into the same trap, as we were able to shock them and many others as a fourteen seed.
Who do you model yourself after as a leader?
I have been fortunate to play under many great leaders between my high school days at Northfield Mount Hermon and here at Harvard. I have tried to emulate aspects from most of them, but Laurent Rivard is definitely the first person that comes to my mind as someone I admire and respect as a leader. Laurent served as captain of our team for two years and had an incredibly successful career. As a leader, he wasn’t noticeably loud or outspoken, but he had the ability to lead and inspire through his actions and work ethic alone. Often times, this was much more effective than words could have been and also gave his words more meaning and authority when he did speak up.
What’s the most important thing you learned at Harvard?
When people think of leadership, and especially great leaders, I think it’s easy to be drawn to the image of a person taking charge of a group and ensuring that each is performing at a necessary level. Many would think of the athlete demanding more from their teammates in a time of need or, maybe, a military leader placing their troops in the right position. My idea of what a great leader was similar to these images prior to this season. I learned quickly, though, constantly working to hold others to a standard is not a practical leadership style. First, I found that when I tried this, I lost focus on myself and stopped holding myself to the standard I once did. I was consumed with the work of others and lost touch with my own. My words and leadership lost meaning because my own work wasn’t in order. I had underestimated the power of leading by example. I then found that my best and most effective moments as a leader were when I was the least focused specifically on leading. I was focused on doing my job at the highest level possible while taking the natural, obvious opportunities to help my teammates. I think this is an incredibly important lesson that has wide applications outside of basketball.
Photos courtesy of Harvard University Athletics Communications.