Amid all the turmoil surrounding the university and the athletic department, the men's basketball program is still attempting to lay down the pieces for a winning foundation. Unfortunately, the allure of a refreshing new coach has staled a bit with time. Another round on the coaching carousel in the sport has come and gone, and Patrick Chambers no longer is the new guy on the block with the big dreams of starting something special. Now that lucky guy is Tim Miles at Nebraska.
Chambers has been nothing short of fantastic in his first year of righting this lost ship, but everyone forecasted a four-year rebuilding project when he arrived. This might come off as a bit of a surprise, but the Nittany Lions are still a program with no winning tradition, no active fan base, no NBA presence, and offers zero national recognition to any of its players on the hardwood.
The coaching staff can try to sell whatever pitch they want, but in the end, Penn State has no sex appeal whatsoever to elite basketball recruits, at least not until they start winning. Sure, the university has great facilities and offers a first-class education, but so does everyone else. In this game with third-party agents and middlemen, you're not going to make waves without getting a little dirty with the rule book. I don't expect to see Chambers meddling in those waters.
For a brief moment there,Brandon Austin allowed us to forget the dreaded reality of college basketball. At long last, PSU has a head coach with connections that can bear players with legitimate pro-potential in a region that the school has direly needed to tap for far too long. But as Austin showcased himself in front of hundreds of scouts and coaches on the AAU circuit, the overwhelming question stuck in the minds of observers. "Why was someone this good going to play hoops at Penn State? That possibly can't last."
That perception is what has driven Chambers nuts, but it will always remain no matter what grand marketing plan the former salesman employs to combat it. The first-year head coach mystique has faded, and now patience and relationship-building are even more paramount on the recruiting trail. Even then it might be enough as was the case with Austin, who had a 4-year relationship with Chambers and called decommitting from him like losing a best friend.
Fighting this perception on the recruiting trail should have been expected by any man who took the job last summer. But what wasn't expected was the hellstorm that has engulfed this university the last 9 months. The coaches were out on the road in July, scouting potential players and meeting new coaches, families, and friends. Too bad the national media was focused on the release of the Freeh Report and subsequent NCAA sanctions. Ask any of the coaches of the heckling they endured at airports and gyms from angry parents and strangers. They all have awful stories.
It's brutal out there on the recruiting trail right now. Austin was a dream at this stage in the process that would've gone a long way to accelerating a dramatic turnaround, but his decommitment doesn't determine Chambers' fate in the slightest. It just resets the game back to the original plan that was expected all along. The program momentum is going to have to come from the development on the court into a formidable team with some kind of winning identity (or maybe a distinct ATTITUDE).
Over the next couple months, the staff will fill out the rest of their 2013 recruiting class with members that will be key in transitioning the program from Ed's players to Pat's guys next year after Tim Fraziergraduates. They won't be rated with as many stars as Brandon Austin, but that's not going to be what matters. As long as they can compete on a Big Ten court, Chambers' real fight against the perception that haunts his team will come by molding them into a winner. When those victories start coming, Penn State basketball won't be so disrespected. It will start offering more opportunities for better prospects that won't be inclined to bail when Florida or Baylor or Kentucky keep calling. That's when Chambers' recruiting prowess should be under the microscope.
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