UNIVERSITY PARK — One of the hallmark characteristics of Patrick Chambers is his enthusiasm and energy.
Penn State’s men’s basketball coach has an infectious personality and is a great salesman.
Recent days and weeks around the Penn State campus have been trying, however, and Chambers would have every reason to let that energy and joy fade.
The second-year coach is on a mission to rebuild the Nittany Lion program, to make it competitive, and he is not about to let some little obstacle like crippling NCAA sanctions against the football program and the negative pall cast on the university from all corners of the country get in his way.
The summer recruiting window opened at 5 p.m. Wednesday, and Chambers was in Orlando, Fla., eagerly awaiting the clock to strike 5 so he could rush through the doors of a gym and convince a young man or two that Penn State was still the right destination to play basketball.
“I’m going to walk in here head held high, shoulders back and be proud of Penn State,” Chambers said by phone from Orlando. “I’ll be very proud about the new era that’s about to approach with myself, Bill O’Brien, Coquese Washington … there are some amazing new young people at this university that I think the world needs to know about.”
Chambers, much like the university’s football and women’s basketball coaches — and all the others on campus — is focusing on the positive. He is brushing aside all the talk of scandal, of crimes and cover-ups, and he is focused on all that Penn State has to offer.
“We have to keep a great attitude,” said Chambers, who is also happy to be walking again and off crutches after knee surgery in late spring. “We have a great opportunity and we’ve got to move ahead and stop dwelling on the negatives and try to start thinking about what makes this place so special.”
Chambers’ job was hard enough: Selling big-time basketball on a university campus in rural Central Pennsylvania. With only one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last decade, and near-annual finishes in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, Penn State is hardly a destination for hoops.
But Chambers has been working on student-athletes around the nation, letting them know the game can be played here and there was potential for so much more.
“It’s a tough job to begin with,” said Chambers, whose team was 12-20 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten last season. “But we’re doing some great things and we’ve got some great kids in our program right now that I’m really excited about. … As long as you continue to work hard, and as long as you continue to show the new kids opportunity — what a Penn State degree can do for you, what our program can do for you as far as player development and what the Big Ten can do for you as far as the league’s exposure — then I think we’re going to be OK. I really do.”
But the dominos that have fallen over the last nine months have provided more difficulties.
Then the big shoe dropped Monday, with enormous sanctions from the NCAA against the football program, including a massive fine and probation while cutting scholarships and deleting wins from the record book. It brought plenty of questions, not only from current team members and their families, but also from recruits and their families and coaches. Chambers said he and his staff have taken a proactive approach, talking frequently not only with the athletes but also others who support them, and making sure there is communication in both directions.
“We want to know what they feel and what they think about the situation,” Chambers said. “It’s been a pretty positive response. I think everybody knows what a great degree it is and what makes Penn State special.”
When Chambers heard the NCAA’s announcement on Monday, however, his thoughts were not about his program, his players, his recruits and how it might set back his goals. He was more worried about a new friend who just started a new job in January restoring the honor of the football program, and has been incredibly impressed with the way O’Brien has handled the situation.
“I was more concerned about Bill and his family and what he is undertaking,” Chambers said. “He moves his family here, and I have a nephew (Patrick Flanagan) on the football team and I was worried about him — and my sister and brother-in- law — and how they were going to react. My emotions were at first thinking about football and how to help them any way you can as far as support.”
And now, with an enthusiasm that doesn’t waver, he is back on the recruiting trail, once again selling Penn State for all who will listen.
“You’re a little disappointed, you’re obviously upset for Bill and the current players there,” Chambers said. “But I am a father, so I kind of understood the sanctions and what they had to do. But we’ve been saying this for weeks internally: Somehow, someway we have to move on, we have to move forward and pick up the pieces again and get our pride back. We have to get up and fight like Bill’s been saying for the last few days. That’s what we have to do.”
Gordon Brunskill can be reached at 231-4608.