By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) —Pat Chambers was an undersized, no-holds-barred, hard-nosed grinder when he played at Episcopal Academy, for the legendary Dan Dougherty, and then at Philadelphia University, for the legendary Herb Magee.
Now he’s bringing that same brand of basketball to Penn State, as the Nittany Lions’ head coach, not only in the way the Lions play but in how Chambers is fearlessly attacking the Philadelphia area for prime recruits.
Chambers has already secured a commitment from Roman Catholic star guard Shep Garner. Area schools better watch out, because the tenacious way Chambers played is the same way he’s going after players.
The youngest of 12 Chambers children, Pat learned to scrap at an early age. Big 10 teams have found themselves in a war when they played dogged Penn State these last two years under Chambers.
He’s bringing Penn State, once a Big 10 basketball doormat, to a level of respectability.
That means getting prime players.
Penn State football could always sell itself. Not so with basketball. In past years, there always seemed to be that invisible line in the recruiting sand that Penn State dared not cross when it came to going after prime basketball talent, especially in Philadelphia.
Chambers doesn’t care. Kids targeted by Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, not to mention local programs like Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph’s and La Salle, are now adding Penn State to their lists.
“We’re Penn State, we’re a great school with great academics, that plays in a great conference, I don’t know why we should be afraid to go after kids because other schools are recruiting them,” said Chambers, who served as an assistant coach under Dougherty and then under Villanova’s Jay Wright before getting the Penn State job.
“We want to be in those backyard brawls [for players], we want to be in those dogfights,” Chambers continued. “I think we’re in a great position, not only for kids in the state of Pennsylvania, but across the country. We made strides over the last two years in how we’re playing, never giving up, playing at a high level. We had a lot of injuries last year and played a lot of walk-ons, and those kids went after it. They gave it their all. I think people in the Big 10 realize when they play Penn State, they’re going to be in a battle. The vision for the program is to be a consistent NCAA tournament team and to be in the top six of the Big 10 on a yearly basis.”
Chambers experienced a Sweet 16, a Final Four, and won in the Big East under Wright at Villanova. He wants kids that are winners, selfless players that work hard and think within a team concept.
“Philadelphia has great players, and we’re going to go where great players are, but Penn State is a unique fit,” Chambers said. “You have to go to class here. Our goal is to win the state and get as many kids out of the state as we can. We’re looking for great players, but they have to be great on and off the floor. We play in the best conference in America and we have 600,000 living alumni. No one can touch that, I mean no one can touch that. When that ball stops bouncing, Penn Staters love Penn Staters. We complete the circle academically and socially. They’ll have jobs after their playing days.”
Penn State visits Penn this year, and La Salle will travel to Happy Valley. Chambers would also like to get Temple on the schedule in the future.
The Nittany Lions return a good core. Penn State changed its offense after January last season, opening up the floor, getting into the 60s more often. The Nittany Lions will return guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, from Strawberry Mansion, 6-foot-6 junior Ross Travis, who is the second-leading returning rebounder in the Big 10, a trimmer Brandon Taylor, a 6-7 forward, and 6-9 Donovon Jack, from Reading.
“I’m the youngest of 12 and I learned early that nothing is given to you, I had to work for everything that was given to me,” Chambers said. “You know, I had the old sayings around me, I was too small, couldn’t shoot, wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t smart enough. That motivated me every day. It’s what motivates me every day here at Penn State. If you’re positive and upbeat, success usually finds you. We’re building and changing the culture, and I want to make sure that I do it my way.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.