Penn State Basketball

Chambers faces mentor

After recovering from a stabbing that nearly cost him his life, Patrick Chambers, then a successful salesman, had a Bobblehead doll made in his likeness complete with a jagged scar that ran down the left side of his neck, an attempt to relieve the discomfort of his clients when they saw the real thing.

It’s that type of ingenuity that convinced his friend, mentor and former head coach, Herb Magee, that Chambers would recover and be successful in any endeavor.

Today, the student will face his teacher when Magee’s Philadelphia University basketball team travels to Penn State for an exhibition game.

“Pretty clever I think,” Magee said of the Chambers bobblehead. “He’s a born salesman, he’s just one of those guys … he’s hard not to like. I can see his team and how much they respect him and play hard for him. There’s nothing phony about the guy. It’s just the way he is.”

In 2002, Chambers was single and out in Philadelphia when he bumped into a female friend from high school and the married couple she was out with. The husband, Chambers has said, was drunk or on drugs or both. The man stabbed Chambers in the neck twice with a shard from a drinking glass believing Chambers was hitting on his wife.

After he recovered, Chambers bought between 500 and 1,000 of the dolls and distributed them to his clients because he noticed they were uncomfortable when they saw the gnarled scar running down his neck.

“I did that because people didn’t know how to react to me when I walked through the door,” Chambers said. “They were kinda ‘hummina hummina’ … so I wanted to break the ice and that was my ice breaker.”

Now, in his second season as head coach, Chambers will face Magee in Penn State’s last preseason action before the Nov. 9 home opener against St. Francis (Pa.).

“It’s gonna definitely be weird because I wore that uniform,” Chambers said. “I’m sure there’s gonna be emotions flowing. Obviously, you never wanna beat the guy who helped put you where you are today, but we have to go out there and we have to compete and put that stuff aside.”

Magee is a Philadelphia basketball icon. In 2007, he became the all-time leader in Division II coaching wins, and then in 2010, he surpassed Bobby Knight in NCAA coaching wins. In 2011, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

In Philadelphia, it’s hard to find a more revered basketball mind.

But before he earned those accolades as a coach, Magee was well respected for his playing career at Philadelphia University (then Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science), finishing as the school’s all-time leading scorer (he has since been supplanted).

It was a combination of that reputation and Magee’s friendship with Dan “Doc” Dougherty, Chambers’ high school coach at Episcopal Academy and another Philadelphia basketball legend, which steered Chambers toward Magee.

“They played against each other,” Chambers said. “Herb was a great shooter and Doc was a great defender. I’m sure they had plenty of battles growing up on the streets of Philly. ... Doc just said it would be a great place for me to develop as a player, it’s a winning tradition, it’s not too far from home and Herb’s an amazing coach. And the end result, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Chambers transferred after a semester at Drexel University and started his career as Magee’s sixth man. By his sophomore year, he worked his way into the starting rotation and even earned a scholarship, an interesting parallel with Chambers’ current senior guard Nick Colella, who played his way into a scholarship last spring.

“I thought at the time when I first met him that this kid would be a help to us somewhere down the pike,” Magee said of Chambers. “But I never envisioned him performing at the level that he did.”

Chambers, the consummate point guard, left as the school’s all-time leader in assists, led teams that made four Division-II NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, two elite eight appearances and won a Division II-record 80 consecutive home games.

“He helped me tremendously as a point guard,” Chambers said. “I mean I truly was an extension of him and saw the game as he saw it, especially as I got older.”

Their relationship as head coach and point guard was critical to their team’s success, but off the floor their bond grew into a mutual affinity and respect.

“He truly was a father figure,” Chambers said. “I used to spend so much time with him in his office, watching film, shooting the breeze. And that relationship has remained very solid to this day.”

Magee still remembers seeing Chambers at homecoming just hours before the stabbing and then later throughout his recovery.

“My first thought was God bless you, you’re alive,” Magee said. “You don’t survive what that guy did to him. He missed his artery by a fraction of an inch is what I was told … if he hits it, Patrick’s gone. I knew that he was strong enough and young enough that he would recover, even though at the time he was really in bad shape. But because of the type of person that he is … I knew he would recover … which my wife and I were very happy for.”

As a sign of respect today, Penn State’s coaching staff will wear sweats in honor of Magee’s preferred in-game attire.

But when the ball is tossed, both coaches will put their feelings aside and ready their teams for their upcoming seasons.

“It’s not a problem. It won’t be emotional,” Magee said. “I’ve been doing this for 46 years … I’ve probably coached 1,400 games in my life … it’s a game that’s all it is … it’s just a basketball game.”

Chambers, as always, will expect intensity on the defensive end. Sophomore Jon Graham looked like a defensive leader in an open practice last month and some of his teammates have lauded his shot blocking in practice.

Offensively, Tim Frazier and DJ Newbill, a backcourt duo Chambers said could be tops in the nation, will see more time on the floor together. Last month, Chambers said he often let them “spar” against each other in practice to maximize competition. As the season nears that duo, along with Jermaine Marshall, will be expected to shoulder most of the offensive load for a team that struggled to score last year.

Philadelphia will rely on the soft shooting of junior guard Jim Connolly, who led the team in scoring last season (16.8). But the Rams will be without freshman forward Derek Johnson, who Magee said is one of their top players. The six-foot-six-inch freshman forward broke his wrist last week in an exhibition game against James Madison. When Johnson returns, Magee said this could be his most talented team in years.

Former Nittany Lion Peter Alexis, who transferred to Philly, will be in the starting lineup for the Rams, adding to the list of familiar faces headed to the Bryce Jordan Center.

The game might be business as usual for Magee, but a large contingent of his family will make the trip and meet with the sizeable Chambers family (Chambers is the youngest of 12) after the game.

“It will be great to see Patrick and his family,” Magee said. “Some of his brothers are going up, which should fill half the stadium. My daughters are going up because they’re all friends with Patrick. My granddaughters are going up and my wife’s going up, so it’s gonna be fun. It should be fun.”

And when the game is over, they’ll embrace at mid-court, catch up on family after the game and maybe reminisce on the days they both still cherish.

“They’re just my fondest memories,” Chambers said. “I mean if you asked me if I could ever go back, those would be the days because we had a ton of success, we won a lotta games … and cut down a lotta nets. And that’s why I try to tell these kids you gotta embrace this time because it goes by fast.”