Last week, before it was announced that Pat Chambers would succeed Ed DeChellis as head basketball coach, we did a Q and A with Anthony of Sports of Boston for a general profile of Chambers the candidate. With the new coach officially installed, however, it's time to go a little more in depth, and we'd like to thank Craig Meyer, the sports editor of Boston University's student newspaper The Daily Free Press for volunteering for a Q and A on what we might be able to expect from Chambers now that he's leading the Nittany Lions. Craig covered the Terrier basketball team this past season and had near-daily interactions with Coach Chambers, so with that, we'll turn the show over to him.
Can you offer any insight on what Chambers' relationship with his players was like?
Chambers' relationship with his players is outstanding, without a doubt. When he was recruiting these players and when they got to campus, he preached ideals of these players and coaches coming together to form a family, and it's something that the players undoubtedly bought into in his two years. Only player issue I'm aware of is that in his first season, there was an incident with one of the team's star seniors, Corey Lowe. After the team had lost in the America East championship and was getting prepared to play in the CBI, Corey went to watch some NCAA Tournament games at a friend's place and there was an agent at the party he talked with, something that was obviously a violation of NCAA rules since the season was still ongoing. Chambers understandably had to dismiss him from the team, but he phrased it along the lines of "Corey wants to move on to the next phase of his life," basically making it sounds like he quit on the team. When the truth came out on it, it made Chambers look pretty bad, but it was his first season and I think he learned from the ordeal.From what I've read, basketball seems to play second fiddle at BU as it does at Penn State. How did Chambers deal with this?
Basketball is second fiddle at BU by a long-shot and that might even be putting it mildly. A lot of people felt that when BU fired Dennis Wolff a couple of years ago, part of it was because attendance continued to remain low and that the administration wanted to bring someone in who could energize and excite a fan base that was beyond apathetic. When Chambers first got in, he did a few outrageous things like ripping off his sport coat, hopping on the scorers table and chanting 'On your feet! On your feet!' at BU's version of Midnight Madness his first season, but he toned it down a little bit from that point on. Attendance never really rose all that much under Chambers, but with hosting the America East title game and making the NCAA Tournament, there was a prevailing sentiment around campus that things were turning the corner in a big way. Chambers always insisted that he wasn't focused too much on the lack of student support, but you could tell it bothered him that with his team's success and his own individual efforts, that he was bothered by a lack of student support. I doubt this will be much of a problem at PSU, though, since Chambers is used to coaching at a school where basketball is not the greatest priority. Believe me, a 3/4 full Bryce Jordan Center will look like the Super Bowl to Chambers after seeing a 1/10 full Agganis Arena for two years.
Penn State will have a very young roster heading into 2011-2012. How would you expect Chambers to address that?
After losing Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks, among others, I think most people realize that Penn State will struggle next year, but Chambers will work well with a young team. While the 2010-11 team was led by a senior in John Holland, Chambers took a team with seven freshmen and three transfers to the Big Dance. If the young players he inherits can buy into his philosophy of defense and rebounding and playing what he called "40 minutes of BU basketball" (I guess substitute Penn State for BU, you'll hear him use that phrase a lot in press conferences), they'll be successful, or at the very least competitive and hanging tough in most games.
BU closed very strong in both of Chambers' seasons there. What went into that and how much of a factor was the coach? Do you think it's a trend that can carry over to his Penn State career?
In his first year at BU, he inherited a very talented, senior-laden team, but it took them until the second half of the year to get going because he was having to install an entirely new system to a group of players who were used to Wolff's slow, prodding style. As the year went on, the more they got used to playing under Chambers, so the team's fortunes understandably increased. Last year, he was working with an overhauled roster with so many new, inexperienced players, so they predictably struggled early on, but they picked it up and really started to gel to go on the 11-game win streak that won them the conference and sent them to the tournament. It is also worth noting that under Chambers, BU played challenging non-conference schedules and then would play most of its games in the second half of the season against America East competition which, in all honesty, isn't that challenging. I would expect Chambers' first team at Penn State to follow that trajectory, but beyond that I guess it depends upon the sort of players he brings in to the program. I certainly think his passion and his energy picks his teams up late in the season as other teams start to wear down and tire.
Ed DeChellis ran a guard-friendly offense at Penn State and the roster is currently built around the backcourt. How will that fit with Chambers' philosophy?
Chambers will be much of the same with regards to the guard-oriented philosophy. He played point guard at Philadelphia University and is one of the programs all-time assist leaders, and he also was an assistant at Villanova when the Wildcats ran the four guard offense during the 2005-06 season. With a fast-paced offense focused on defense and rebounding, Chambers' teams are very much so a reflection of their coach: gritty, hard-nosed, but with an ability to run a full court, up-and-down game.
Penn State is bringing in a few "project' big men in, Peter Alexis and Patrick Ackerman. How successful was Chambers at developing big men at BU, and do you think he can mold forwards that can become threats at the Big 10 level?
The thing with most teams in the America East, including BU, is that there has been a real lack of talented traditional big men over the last several years. You get a lot of teams with guys like Jake O'Brien and Dom Morris from BU who have size, but almost always seem more content to wander out to the perimeter and take outside shots. I'd say the best way to judge Chambers' ability with big men is to look at Patrick Hazel, who Chambers brought in after Hazel decided to transfer from Marquette. Hazel was always a good defender, but he looked rusty, slow and out of place for much of the first half of the season on the offensive end. As the season went on, Hazel progressed as the team's center not only on the defensive end, but over time, he also became a very efficient low post player on offense. Chambers certainly deserves some of the credit for the turnaround, and I think Hazel's model should give Penn State fans some hope as to how well Chambers can work with some of the Nittany Lions' big men.
What kind of ambassador was Chambers for the BU program? Beyond his on-court success, how did he promote the program's visibility in the community?
Community involvement was a huge part of Chambers' efforts at BU and in the Boston-area. His players would volunteer at walks to raise money for cancer research, they would volunteer by reading to local school children, and more on a BU level, he and his players would call every BU season ticket holder individually to thank them for their support at the end of the season. Granted, there's probably something in the ballpark of 200 people with BU season tickets, but it's a nice gesture nonetheless. Volunteer efforts were something Chambers took great pride in, not only to increase the visibility of his program, but also because he genuinely cared about helping others. Even scumbags like John Calipari do charity work, but it was very evident that Chambers and his players invested themselves in the work they did. I expect much of the same to continue at Penn State, with Chambers making himself an active and accessible figure on campus and in the community.
How do you think Chambers is equipped to handle the visibility that comes with leading a Big 10 program?
He's very equipped to handle it, even though the jump from the America East to the Big 10 is a considerable one that will likely take even a charismatic guy like Chambers time to adjust to. For all his energy and passion, Chambers is a very collected individual, so by the end of his first season, I'd expect him to be acclimated to everything that comes with a higher profile job.