Pat Chambers validated trust of administration by leading Penn State to NIT championship, capping off most successful year in Nittany Lion basketball history. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
NEW YORK -- Coaches betting on themselves, so to speak, has become a recent trend in college basketball, where the leader of a program projects enough confidence in the collective ability of he and his team to pull through with its back against the proverbial wall, leading to a payoff for all parties involved.
Kevin Willard is a popular example of such an instance, urging athletic director Pat Lyons to stick with him one more year at Seton Hall following a tumultuous 2014-15 season that would have been enough to show some others in his shoes toward the exit. With a rejuvenated lease on life and a burgeoning sophomore class, Willard rewarded Lyons' faith with a Big East Conference championship, the program's first since 1993. Clemson's trust in Brad Brownell when it appeared his tenure was on shaky ground led to a Top 25 ranking and the Tigers ending the season in the Midwest Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. And in the case of Pat Chambers and the commitment of athletic director Sandy Barbour, Penn State now has a seat at this common table, bringing its newly-won National Invitation Tournament championship trophy as a centerpiece.
"I've been on the hot seat for seven years," the former Jay Wright assistant and head coach at Boston University declared in the afterglow of Penn State winning its second postseason championship last Thursday, and first since a prior NIT victory in 2009. "You've just got to try to do it the right way, try to bring in big-time players, and you've got to have an administration that supports you."
Such advice is easier said than done in a Big Ten Conference where perennial heavyweights such as Michigan State, Michigan, and Indiana continue to reign supreme, with Ohio State joining the fray this season under new head coach Chris Holtmann. Far too often -- especially at schools where football takes a greater precedence than its hardwood contemporary -- the building process can be arduous, and at times, thankless if done under the large shadow cast by the gridiron. For Chambers, he has managed to pull off this feat with a bang, blending veteran leaders the likes of Lamar Stevens and Shep Garner with dynamic younger players such as point guard Tony Carr, Josh Reaves, and burgeoning forward John Harrar, and taking on a proven mentor in Jim Ferry -- who won a pair of Northeast Conference championships at LIU Brooklyn -- to serve on his staff to accelerate the growth process, which now adds Selection Sunday to its list of expectations.
"It's a springboard for us," said Chambers of the NIT victory. "To win 26 games, to cut down some nets, that means winning. You're winning, you're finding success, and that helps everything out. We've created a lot of excitement, but it's definitely a validation of how hard the staff has worked and the risk -- the trailblazing -- that a lot of these players took to say yes to us. I think we've proven to a lot of people across the country that Penn State basketball is here to stay. It's not just a stepping stone, it's a destination."
"When all that is aligned and you partner up, and you just keep working, you know eventually, it's going to swing your way. And it finally did."