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A Look At Pat Chambers’ Path To Success

Hard work played a large role for the coach but he would probably give most of the credit to Wawa.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Penn State Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Chambers has come a long way since arriving in Happy Valley in June of 2011. During his first six seasons the Lions only had one winning record, an 18-16 finish in 2014-15. Over the past three seasons, Chambers has guided Penn State to a 61-41 record, including an NIT Championship and the 2019-20 group that will be considered one of the best teams in program history.

The success for the Lions has come following Chambers’ success in recruiting his hometown of Philadelphia. With Mike Watkins, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens, he had three freshmen from Philly that were able to play and help the team. The trio led the Lions to some great victories over the past few years. Since their arrival, the pipeline between State College and Chambers’ old stomping grounds has continued to bear fruit.

Impact players such as Izaiah Brockington last season and Sam Sessoms this year have transferred to Penn State after leaving their hometown of Philadelphia to play elsewhere. It seemed more like a pipe dream when Chambers spoke of developing a pipeline to the most fertile recruiting grounds in Pennsylvania. Now it is established and young basketball players in the City of Brotherly Love know that State College is a destination that could lead to a shot in the NBA.

Tony Carr was drafted after just two years at Penn State, the only time that has happened. It demonstrated that there is a fast track to professional basketball through Happy Valley. Carr was the first player drafted in two decades for the Lions, but he has not made it in the NBA, playing overseas instead. There is also a slow track, as demonstrated by Tim Frazier and Josh Reaves. Reaves played 2 games with Dallas last season, getting most of his work in the G League. Frazier has played 272 games over six seasons and has earned roughly $7,000,000 according to the contracts that he has signed.

Lamar Stevens chose to come back for his senior season and while he may not be drafted, like Josh Reaves, he will certainly get a shot at the highest level. If Stevens makes it to the NBA, that would be three players in three years to either get drafted or set foot on the court. That would be an amazing accomplishment for a program that went almost two decades without sending a player to the NBA.

The future looks bright for Penn State basketball and its coach. It wasn’t always that way. Following the 2001 season that saw Joe Crispin lead the Lions to the Sweet 16, the team failed to win 10 games in one year for the next 4 seasons, grabbing just 9 Big Ten wins over that span. It was the worst stretch in program history.

For Pat Chambers, that period of time was a similar transition period. In 2001 Chambers was a 31-year-old salesman, not a basketball coach, when his life took a drastic turn. He has told the story many times of being stabbed in the neck in a hotel lobby bar. A man, described as drunk out of his mind and also on drugs, thought Chambers was hitting on his wife. The incident changed the Penn State basketball coaches’ life for the better.

“I’m glad I was stabbed,” he said in an interview in 2010. “It was totally a defining moment. It changed my career, changed the way I looked at things. I had a big house, fancy car, was making really good money, flying to Miami or Saint Martin on a whim, doing whatever I wanted. All these materialistic things that at the time you think are important—they’re not important at all. Life is all about relationships, about your faith, your family. I’m a better person today: a better man, a better leader, a better father, a better brother, and a better husband. I’m thankful it happened.”

Here is an interview that Chambers gave ten years ago this month, when he was just coming off a trip to the CBI with Boston University, his first season at the Division I level as a head coach. Boston University was in a similar situation as Penn State when Chambers arrived, having struggled in recent years.

Notice just ten short years ago Chambers had a healthy mane of hair that wandered down the front far enough to tickle his forehead wrinkles. Being the coach at Penn State is not conducive to maintaining a full head of hair.

I left a little bit of time at the beginning of this next clip so that you could hear the interviewer from Boston University speak about Chambers as he was viewed heading into the 2010-11 season, one that would end with an NCAA bid. Penn State fans can appreciate the sentiment of a CBI trip being considered a step in the right direction. The fans at Boston University were already buying what Chambers was selling and it paid off. Listen to how similar he spoke ten years ago. Not much has changed.

It was Chambers’ first year living away from his hometown at the time of the interview, less than a decade removed from the stabbing incident and a full decade shy of turning the Penn State basketball team into a nationally competitive team. He said something that will endear him to many Black Shoe Diaries readers when talking about the things he missed while living in Massachusetts. He sung Wawa’s praises and was wise not to disparage Dunkin’ Donuts while in New England.

It took Chambers eight years after the stabbing incident to attain his first NCAA head coaching job. It took almost that long to lift the Lions from the cellar of the Big Ten to a position to compete for the post-season on an annual basis. He may not be an overnight success but he’s here now and his team is positioned to be strong in the coming years.