Seven seasons. That’s how long it’s been since Penn State last hired a new basketball coach. An up and comer stemming from the Jay Wright coaching tree, Pat Chambers had taken his Boston University Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in just two seasons. The last time they’d been to the tournament was 2002, after having won the America East conference.
Chambers came to Penn State checking all the marks one could have hoped for in a coach: energetic, from a good coaching pedigree, good recruiter, and a proven winner. It was, at the time, a match made in heaven. There was hope that with a renewed sense of energy, the Penn State rebuild we’d all been waiting for was finally going to happen.
In reality, things played out a little differently. The combination of circumstances and the coach’s own inexperience led to a longer rebuild than any of us would have expected, so much so that even after seven years we were still wondering if this play had run its course. Year after year of getting infinitely close but never breaking through led to angst and discord among the fanbase. After what looked to be yet another season full of potential not realized, the fanbase was ready for something new, even if it meant starting from scratch again.
This leads us to now. Penn State just finished playing its last postseason game, and there is no more doubt about what’s to happen. Penn State turned its season around, wining six of its last 10 games in the regular season. They headed to the NIT, where they showcased their talents to the rest of the country on the national stage. They may have come just short of the ultimate goal, but, like TCU before them, the Nittany Lions put the rest of the country on notice. This season was just a preview. Next season, well, watch out.
Throughout the course of this season, especially in the months of December and January, many postmortems were written to unofficially bookend the season; to give in to the idea that this Penn State team, the one that had so much potential at the beginning of the year, had failed to reach expectations and would lead to the coach’s demise. After a loss to NC State, the doubts started to creep in. After a loss to Wisconsin, it became clear that it would be a dogfight the whole way. After a loss to Rider, the tournament was a long shot. After losses to Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern, the season was “officially” over. With each and every loss it became more difficult to watch and more unrealistic to believe this team had a turnaround in them.
As a fan, I chose to give our coach the dignity of finishing out the season before I put that final nail in his coffin. I’m glad I waited because, as it turned out, the team did have a little bit left in them after all. The team welcomed the toughest stretch of its schedule with enthusiasm unknown to mankind.* They traveled to Columbus, defeating then No. 13 Ohio State in its own gym; that one will go down as one of the best finishes of the season. They followed it up by giving No. 5 Michigan State all it could handle. No. 8 Purdue, the class of the Big Ten at one point, needed a missed free throw form Mike Watkins to put away this Penn State team. The Lions won their fair share along the way, and what once looked like a lost season found new life and led us to where we are today.
Pat Chambers, ultimately, has yet to reach his full potential at Penn State. His legacy will be forever known for showing fans that winning at Penn State is possible. He showed that competing with the top of the Big Ten is not just a pipe dream, but something to aim for. He proved a coach can form relationships and recruit great players to come to this program. He has not yet taken the Nittany Lions to the promised land, but with the map on hand, he’s showing us exactly how to get there.
Years from now, after taking the lessons learned from this tenure to date, my hope is to look back and reminisce on the hardships that got Penn State over the hump. We’ll remember the trials, the tribulations, and the overall anguish we all felt as we watched the team we care so deeply about tread water for what seemed like an eternity. And then, we’ll remember that time, the time when the tide finally swept this program away into new and undiscovered waters, and we’ll chuckle at how close we really were from potentially never getting there.
With failure comes a new hope. New opportunities for improvement. New ways of approaching the same problem. New lessons to help us achieve our goals. Penn State now finds itself in the position to use all the lessons they’ve learned in the past seven years to become the powerhouse we all know it could be. With a renewed sense of hope, we forge forward unto uncharted territory. I for one am more than excited to see what’s next. Because failure, after all, is nothing but an opportunity for success.
As one journey begins, another one ends. After three wonderful years writing for BSD, it’s time to let the tide take me into uncharted territory as well. I would like to thank everyone who’s supported me over the years, especially those who helped me become the writer I am today (both current and former members of the staff). Special thanks to Cari and Jared for giving me the opportunity to share my fandom with this online community. And of course, thank you, the reader. Without you, the words I put on a screen would have little meaning or use. I won’t soon forget the good times I had writing for this site.
Here’s to success!
*They, however, have not yet turned that enthusiasm into third- and fourth-place finishes in their own division.