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Penn State Basketball: National Pundits Believe Chambers Has Nittany Lions on Road to Success

by on May 31, 2012 6:00 AM

Patrick Chambers just might be the right guy to put Penn State basketball on the map as a Pennsylvania power.

The silver-haired, 41-year-old suit-wearing former salesman was only 12-20 in his first season as the Nittany Lions' boss, but two highly respected national basketball writers believe Chambers has Penn State on the road to hoops success in Happy Valley.

They both caution it still is early in the process.

"He has no fear of failure," New York Daily News writer/columnist Dick Weiss said of Chambers. "There was a stigma about Penn State, that kids felt uncomfortable on a rural campus, that there was never going to be a game-changer, even though other Big Ten schools are the same.

"Chambers can get players who can play for him. He's good at spotting players with talent. I think kids will enjoy playing for him."

His Philadelphia roots already indicate a strong influence on his ability to control the state – starting with his recruiting pool.

"He has the ability to go out and get the guys he needs to get to win," said Mike DeCourcy, national college basketball writer for the Sporting News.

Bred in Newtown Square, Pa., lovingly known as part of Delco, Chambers was a walk-on at Philadelphia University, where he played for Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee.

Chambers started his coaching career under Villanova's Jay Wright, and Chambers served as the associate head coach at Villanova from 2008-09.

Penn State hired Chambers as its 12th basketball coach on June 3, 2011, subsequent to his 42-28 record at Boston University, where he led the Terriers to the America East Conference Championship and the team's first NCAA berth since 2002.

Chambers replaced Ed DeChellis, who departed under mounting pressure to become the new coach at Navy. However, in his final season at his alma mater, DeChellis guided Penn State to a rare NCAA Tournament berth that ended with a second-round loss to Temple.

Weiss and DeCourcy, who both are in the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame, said two of Chambers' most recent Philadelphia recruits could be playing at any of the Big Five schools.

Chambers got commitments from 6-foot-6 guard Brandon Austin, Class of 2013, and 6-8 forward Brandon Taylor, Class of 2012. Both Austin and Taylor are from the Philadelphia area and chose Penn State over nearly a dozen other schools with historically more notable basketball programs.

"You look at these guys, Austin and Taylor, and they could be playing anywhere, but they picked Penn State," DeCourcy said.

Chambers, who will be at Friday's Coaches vs. Cancer golf event at the Penn State Golf Courses, is characterized by his enigmatic personality.

"His dedication to his family and work ethic might not be Philadelphia characteristics, but it's who Pat is," DeCourcy said.

The recruits Chambers has pulled from the Philadelphia area – including the recent acquisition of the 6-foot-9 forward/center Donovon Jack, from Reading, Pa. – is indicative of the kind of commitment Chambers has to his team and his roots.

His work ethic and `Go-Go-Go' personality may not be classically Philly, DeCourcy said, but Chambers continues to practice what was preached starting with his CYO leagues, under Magee and at Villanova.

Philadelphia also is an enduring reminder of Chambers' near-death experience, and the motivation that keeps him going and inspires his players.

Chambers told DeCourcy last June about the night in 2002 he ran into a female friend who was with a married couple. The husband attacked Chambers, stabbing him in the neck twice. Chambers said the husband, who he believes was under the influence, suspected Chambers was hitting on his wife.

Although he was the man who had been stabbed with a broken vodka glass and left "a centimeter away from death," Chambers eventually stashed the bag of bloodied clothes and shoes in a bag.

He has been known to show the articles to his team's as motivation.

In the ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Philadelphia last month during the first stop on the Coaches Caravan, there was an easy rapport between Chambers and new Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien, who encouraged fans to attend the men's basketball games this winter.

"We need to change the perception of Penn State basketball," Chambers said. "It's definitely a challenge to recruit the elite players from (Philadelphia), but we gotta win.

"We'll have success in years to come."

Chambers plans to reconnect Penn State alumni with the basketball team.

"Intense, passionate, we want to win," said Chambers, who still is on the rebound from recent knee surgery.

Weiss, who also worked more than 20 years at the Philadelphia Daily News, believes Chambers is going after the Philly-area guys who can reverse Penn State's fortunes in the Big Ten and beyond.

D.J. Newbill,  a North Philadelphia native and redshirt sophomore guard who sat out last year after transferring from Southern Mississippi, also is on the Nittany Lions' roster.

"Either you're from Philly or you're not," Weiss said. "There's instant street cred you wouldn't have if you came from anywhere else.

"Pat has that. He wants to be a part of the solution, not the problem, at Penn State."

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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