STATE COLLEGE — Patrick Chambers had his audience captivated. The Penn State men’s basketball coach held court over his tablemates, telling stories and sharing advice.
Chambers covered a lot of topics: what it was like growing up the youngest of 12 siblings, whether he thinks the NBA should adopt an age limit (he does), recruiting and how he uses social media in an age when seemingly everyone updates Twitter every couple of minutes.
Chambers wasn’t addressing a recruit, the alumni base or potential donors. Instead, he shared his insight with about a dozen members of State College Young Professionals last Thursday afternoon in the lower level of Rotelli in downtown State College.
At length, Chambers also discussed leadership. This topic served as the focal point for the get-together, the latest in the series of “Break Out” lunch meetings that SCYP schedules with community leaders.
Within the context of leadership, Chambers emphasized three key points: faith, trust and attitude. He displayed the same passion and zest as he does on the court, making an enormous impression.
"His personality is invigorating, he was amazing,” Kristen Connolly said. “He's a great leader, he's a great inspirer for all of us and I think his attitude in life is the one thing we all take away from today."
Connolly organizes the sessions, which take place every two months. She borrowed the idea from a group she belonged to in Wisconsin, saying this fills a need for people beginning to carve out a career in the Centre Region.
She helps manage digital media partnerships for AccuWeather, and said Chambers’ advice will help her within her career, noting that your attitude can greatly shape how others view you, which Chambers discussed.
“He gave great tips that can be applied to everyday life,” Connolly said. “I think another big takeaway is that if you’re not happy, then figure out what you need to do to make every day count and to enjoy your job and to make an impact on the people around you.”
The lunch, much smaller and more intimate than a formal press conference, gave Chambers the opportunity to connect with fans on a more personal level.
The lunch also was another example of Chambers’ continued community outreach. From throwing out the first pitch at a Little League game to hosting the annual Coaches vs. Cancer golf event, Chambers has kept busy. And of course, he’s been meeting with several upper-level recruits.
Chambers is flooded with appearance requests, and when I asked him afterward why events like this lunch are a priority for him, his response showed that he understands his job at Penn State extends beyond the court.
"You want to develop leaders in the community and develop leaders in the university, and helping them along their path, their journey, their way, like people helped me,” Chambers said. “I think it's great to give back.”
Outside of attending basketball games and pep rallies, Connolly hadn’t spent much time around Chambers and had never talked to him one-on-one. Similarly, he hadn’t ever heard of State College Young Professionals, a group that organized about a decade ago and currently has approximately 115 members.
The previous unfamiliarity wasn’t obvious during the friendly discussion that also featured Chambers answering a handful of questions about his coaching philosophy and outlook for the team.
Creating relationships is a major goal of these meetings for SCYP. The group has been meeting with local leaders since the beginning of last year, and combined with volunteer work, Connolly said the group is gaining more and more of a foothold in the community.
The informal lunches have featured guests from athletics, business and entertainment, with the group absorbing a wide range of perspectives from people who bring their own unique viewpoints.
Before last week, I had limited direct interaction with Chambers, though I had attended plenty of press conferences, seen him oversee practice and watched how he interacted with fans and the media in a variety of settings.
The one thing I’ve always admired about Chambers is his authentic demeanor. He’s genuine and sincere, and maybe that doesn’t sound like a major compliment in this day and age, but for me, that counts for a lot.
Last week’s event only strengthens this observation. There were benefits for both SCYP and Chambers; the group gains more traction and, perhaps, Chambers gains a few more fans.
Chambers added he enjoys these types of events because it allows him a chance to re-evaluate how he defines and exhibits leadership and to hear from others on the subject and learn something new.
I found that to be pretty heady stuff, an NCAA Division I coach who’s humble enough to feel he can learn from people just beginning their own careers.
Faith. Trust. Attitude. Chambers doesn’t just speak it, he lives it, and last week he showed it.
"This really gives us an opportunity to learn from local leaders,” Connolly said. “Everyone has a different experience and a different background. That helps us to take their knowledge and bring it into our lives and figure out how we can benefit and become local leaders as well."