Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
September 7, 2011 – | 1 Comment

Once again, it’s Adam Collyer over at BlackShoeDiaries providing the questions, and we, your humble bloggers, providing the answers. Mine are below, and you can venture off to the remote areas of the blogosphere that …

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On Pat Chambers: The View From Boston

Submitted by on June 6, 2011No Comment

In the past few days since the naming of Pat Chambers as the new face of Penn State basketball, many attempts at analysis have been undertaken. Too often, though, they’re incomplete: either simple extrapolation of data, or based on unfounded assumptions. Sure, most of us are excited about the hire, and for good reason, but we’re still somewhat ignorant about the kind of coach Chambers actually is–and will be at Penn State.

But what better way is there to find out the full story about Chambers–about his coaching philosophy, about his demeanor, about his recruiting ability–than to talk with someone who watched him for 2 years. While Pat Chambers coached the Boston University Terriers, building them into a tournament team after just one year, Craig Meyer took it all in, and wrote about it, for BU’s Daily Free Press. He’ll be the newspaper’s Sports Editor next year, and he was gracious enough to take the time to answer some of our questions. (To read more reports on what Chambers did at BU, check out the paper’s Basketball Blog, which Meyer, among others, has helped to maintain.)

We want to once again profess our most sincere thanks to Craig, whose experience with Chambers has been truly insightful. The interview might seem a bit lengthy, but the quality eclipses the quantity. At the very least, I’m even more stoked to have Chambers at the helm of the Nittany Lions after our discussion, and after reading this, you should be too.

NWO: When Pat Chambers was hired at BU, what was the general reaction? How is the BU community dealing with the loss of their coach?

Granted, BU’s fan base is pretty minimal, but there was definitely excitement around Chambers’ hire, especially because he was hired when Villanova was fresh off a Final Four appearance. There was a widely-held sentiment that the program needed a new course of action after 15 years under Dennis Wolff, and in comes this new guy who is young, vibrant and energetic to a fault. I can personally guarantee that after his press conference on Monday, a lot of Penn State fans who may be lukewarm on the hire will be excited after they hear him speak. After all, he got into coaching after a stint in the business world, so he definitely knows how to sell himself and his coaching philosophy.

As for how things are at BU, they’re decidedly down. For much of Chambers’ two years at BU, he put forth successful teams, but there was never much fan support, but after hosting an America East title game and appearing in the NCAA Tournament, there was really a sense that the program was turning the corner and making significant strides to being not only the “Gonzaga or Xavier of the East” that he talked about in his introductory presser, but also a program that people really gave a damn about on campus and in the community. There are a small minority of fans who are angry because they go back to the Gonzaga comment, as well as his recent extension in which he said they had “made BU his dream job” and that he didn’t want to move his family, and they see him as cutting-and-running before he could really accomplish much of anything. However, for most BU fans, it’s really more a feeling of disappointment and understanding. BU fans figured Chambers would leave for bigger things eventually, but they just didn’t think it would be so soon. But given the circumstances, they more than understand the move and wish him nothing but the best. Chambers wasn’t really in a position to turn down a significant pay raise, a move from America East to the Big Ten, and effectively a move back home to top it all off.

How did Chambers distance himself from outgoing head coach Dennis Wolff? What was Wolff doing wrong that Chambers came in and remedied?

Chambers differed from Wolff in almost every manner entirely. Since he was at BU for such a short time, he didn’t get to distance himself too, too much, especially since he achieved much of his success with players that Wolff recruited. But as far as coaching philosophy and personality were concerned, it was night-and-day. I can only speak to the end of Wolff’s tenure, but he never seemed to do much in terms of trying to increase student support and the visibility of the program — a sense of detachment and a reluctance to change from what made his teams successful early in the 90′s and early 2000′s that seemingly didn’t work anymore more than anything. Chambers came in and immediately made himself an active presence on campus and in the community. While Wolff was kind of stuck in his ways and distant, Chambers was more innovative and accessible.

What were the hallmarks of Chambers’ two teams at BU? What were their strengths, and their weaknesses?

I’d say his major hallmark was his ability to get his teams to close out the season well. Largely because of tough non-conference schedules, both his teams got off to slow starts. But as the season went on, things started to click and both teams played their best ball of the season. With the 09-10 team, a lot of the early struggles could be attributed to injuries and the fact that Chambers inherited a group of players that, talented as it was, weren’t his own guys and weren’t used to his strategies and sets, but rather Wolff’s. But things came together and the team came within a game of the NCAA Tournament and made a run in the CBI before losing to Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals which, after we found out this year, there’s really no shame in. Last year’s team had only three returning players, with seven freshmen and three transfers, so naturally, it took a while for things to get entirely figured out. When the team did gel, they went on an 11-game tear that gave them a conference title and a berth in the Big Dance before bowing out to Kansas in a game that was close until the final eight minutes or so. Both teams’ ability to excel in the game’s fundamentals — defense, rebounding and free throw shooting — also really stand out.

If I had to pick out one standout weakness, it was probably the team’s reliance on settling for 3-pointers. Chambers’ BU teams never really had much of an inside scoring threat and that often forced them to camp out along the perimeter. A sizable percentage of the team’s shots were from outside, which consequently made them one of the lowest-ranking teams in the country in overall field goal percentage.

What kind of coaching tactics did Chambers use? Was he known more as a disciplinarian? How was his on-court demeanor?

Chambers is definitely a disciplinarian, but not in the suffocating, over-bearing, get-in-your face and scream, Frank Martin sort of sense. He constantly harped on the importance of the team and coaching staff being like a family, and thinking of it that way, Chambers was much like the father — he kept order and was hard on his players when needed, but he did it for all the right reasons, namely that he cared so much for his guys. His on-court demeanor was very much like his personality, very intense and energetic, but never in the out-of-control sense that draws technicals and hurt his team. he gives off a controlled energy that his teams always really seemed to feed off of.

As far as tactics are concerned, his teams are defensively-oriented and sound, very drilled in the fundamentals, meaning they don’t make a whole lot of dumb, infuriating mistakes. The offense is very guard-oriented and it plays an up-and-down sort of game that embodies the way Chambers played as a gritty, walk-on point guard in his playing days at Philadelphia University. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Penn State fans will never question the effort of any Chambers-coached team.

Compared to other America East teams, how would you rate the recruiting classes that Chambers brought in? What was the ceiling for Chambers at BU?

It’s a little hard to judge since Chambers was really only able to bring in a single recruiting class and a group of transfers, the former of which we’ve really been able to only see a quick glimpse at. As far as recruiting rankings go, Chambers was able to bring in the most talent by a large margin. In the 2010 class, he was able to bring in players with the following rankings: 89 (Travis Robinson), 87 (Mat Piotrowski), 86 (Dom Morris), 85 (DJ Irving), 85 (Mike Terry). The next highest rated recruit of any team in that conference was an 84. He was able to successfully tap into the Philadelphia recruiting scene given his connections and it produced two players in Irving and Morris who look like future stars and a third in Robinson whose production was stifled with a series of injuries.

He said that he wanted to make the BU program the next Gonzaga, but the ceiling for his BU teams was probably closer to the ceiling for any low-major team — conference titles/NCAA berths on an annual basis and maybe even a win or two in the Big Dance.

Anything else you’d like to add? How do you think his coaching ability translates to a bigger stage, like at Penn State?

This is definitely a hire Penn State fans should be excited about, Chambers is an up-and-comer who may really make a name for himself at Penn State. That being said, he was obviously brought in largely because of his ability to recruit Philadelphia and I think his success at Penn State will be dependent upon how well he can tap into one of the most fertile basketball recruiting grounds in the country. If he can convince top talent from that area to come to State College over Villanova, Pitt and a litany of other Big East schools, he will excel.

With Indiana still working its way back up, Purdue losing a lot of its core players, Illinois really having not done much of anything since the run to the title game in 05, I think the potential is there for Penn State to climb up the Big Ten ladder under Chambers. I think the term ‘sleeping giant’ is over and often incorrectly used, but I think Penn State’s got the capacity to field a basketball program that consistently makes the NCAA Tournament.

With the proper mix of talent, coaching and administrative support, this hire could stand as the moment that turned around Penn State basketball, and I truly believe that.

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