A Dozen Recruits to Fix Penn State Basketball
Now that Penn State has hired a new basketball coach in Patrick Chambers, it can check off No. 1 on its list of things to do to improve Nittany Lion basketball.
And let’s be honest: the next three things on that list are really all the same – recruit, recruit, recruit.
The steady delivery of quality players to the Bryce Jordan Center’s doorstep, more than everything else, will cure what ails a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament just four times in the Joe Paterno Era (since 1966).
But there are other people that Chambers must work hard to bring into his corner. They are not as critical to the team’s overall success as proven high school basketball players. Yet they still play key roles in making Penn State basketball what it is not: A consistent winner.
Chambers has his undergraduate degree in marketing and he was in sales before entering the coaching profession full-time. So he knows how to identify prospects and ask for their business.
He closed the deal with Penn State and got the biggest – and most difficult – job of his life.
Now, for Chambers, the recruiting has just begun. After top-flight Division I players, here are 12 more recruits Chambers needs to sign up:
1.) The Nittany Nation’s mindset. Chambers must increase the expectations of Penn State basketball everywhere. Playing in the NCAAs once every decade is not enough. Neither is every four years. Hold Chambers’ feet to the fire. Now. Let’s start with the 2011-2012 season. No matter how arduous the task, Chambers better expect the Lions to be at least .500 – or we’ll all see a quick retreat to the old mindset.
2.) The people who write Tim Curley’s contract. I (obviously) don’t know what Curley’s contract looks like, but I bet a high showing in the Director’s Cup may trigger the biggest bonus. Whatever incentives PSU pays him for basketball success, Penn State President Graham Spanier should double them. Today.
3.) Graham Spanier. Sure, he signed off on Chambers’ hire, so he’s halfway home. But Spanier really needs to be all in on a long-term basis. Penn State’s president attends a lot of sporting events, but he truly loves women’s volleyball. He meets with all recruits, is a visible presence at games and sees himself as a valuable part of Russ Rose’s team. He also needs to adopt men's basketball. He said his three hours with Chambers in Boston last week were “the fastest three hours I ever had in this job.” Strike while the Spanier is hot.
4.) The Bryce Jordan Center consigliere. The people who work with Penn State men’s basketball on a daily basis, from the office staff to support in publicity, marketing and operations must buy into Chambers and his mission. They can make his life easier and Penn State basketball better in ways many people do not realize. Chambers’ energy and enthusiasm give them hope, but in some ways it won’t be easy – they’ve seen all or part of the 28 years of an era that featured Bruce Parkhill and two of his assistants, and are worn down by it all.
5.) Whoever has the keys to Rec Hall. Chambers’ team should play one game in Rec Hall a year. Make it a non-conference game, jack up the ticket prices and give the money to Coaches vs. Cancer. Logistically, it’s a bit of extra work but it can be done. Tickets will be at a premium and should go to season ticket-holders first – an inducement to buy for all season-long. Students should wait in line for their seats. Chambers would love this – he was in attendance for Penn State’s infamous double OT loss to Indiana in 1993. Oh, yeah: Let’s ask Bobby Knight to throw up the opening tip in the first Rec Hall Classic.
6.) Hoops players across campus. Recreate Notre Dame’s old Bookstore Basketball tournament, where three-on-three games are held outside and involve the whole campus. Call it Pat’s Pride Tourney. Varsity hoops players are eligible to compete – one per team – and Chambers and his staff should all have teams, too. (Lou Holtz used to be on a team at ND.) Winning team gets a suite for the next basketball season.
7.) Anyone with $2. It is time for Penn State to suck it up and paper the house for men’s basketball on occasion. One of the reasons the Lady Lions used to pack ’em in was because Penn State decided to offer $2 tickets. For students, throw in a hot dog, too. Even if it costs a hundred grand, Penn State athletics is still to the good since Chambers makes less than Ed DeChellis did.
8.) A big-name home opponent. The Nittany Lions need at least one or two more big(ger) non-con big games. The Maine thing is this: I don’t know where Furman is located, and the only thing I know about Central Connecticut State is where it is located. (At the very least, bring Navy to town.)
9.) Pitt. It’s time to play the football card and get back the series with the Panthers – in basketball and football. And if that doesn’t fly in Lasch, then try scheduling West Virginia, UConn or Louisville. And hey, Syracuse is already on the football schedule, so Curley has some leverage. Maybe Jim Boeheim will finally change his mind.
10.) The media. Chambers should travel statewide – a la early Paterno – and meet the media (TV, radio, newspapers, Web) on their own turf. Maybe even steal another page from Joe’s playbook and have an off-the-record get-together the night before a big game. And do one that Joe doesn’t: Open up practice – all of it.
11.) Fans and students via new media. Be inventive: do online chats, hire a full-time social media assistant for Chambers (Pete Carroll did this at USC), combine with WPSU or the students in the College of Communications to work up a reality show, do Tweet-ups featuring Chambers around campus -- like the IM Building during weeknight basketball pick-up games or BJC center court at 2 a.m. (with free food and prizes, hoop runs with Chamber and the like as an inducement).