Pat Chambers Excited For What Lies Ahead
After Penn State’s unexpected run through the Big Ten Tournament, men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers said his team was playing his best basketball. Now, Chambers is looking to carry that momentum into the offseason, hoping to use it to build towards next year.
“I think what you saw at the end of the year, starting at Minnesota, was a team that was coming together,” said Chambers on Monday at his year-end press conference. “It wasn’t too little too late. We got there. I think they learned a lot from it.”
Chambers says his team is already back in the gym working to get better.
“We gave them a week off,” said Chambers. “And they want to get back in the gym, they want to get better, to change their bodies, to work on their weaknesses. Sometimes when you finish seasons out, you don’t want to see a ball for a month. The way we finished the season has really resurrected these kids, and maybe even this program. To put us all in a better light, to make us feel better about ourselves. I think that’s why they’re all like, ‘Let’s get back to work. We know what the vision is, we know what the goals are, let’s start it as soon as possible.'”
The end of the year, which saw the Nittany Lions defeat Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa before losing a hard-fought game to NCAA Tournament-bound Purdue, showed a team that finally put the pieces together, finally showed that its positive flashes displayed throughout the season weren’t flukes, and showed some optimism for the future. Six returning Nittany Lions played nine or more minutes per game during that stretch, with four returning players averaging more than eight points per game.
“We ended optimistically, especially our young guys, they really became a part of everything we do,” Chambers said. “To finish with three out of four wins in the last four games, and played the way we played, I take great pride in the way we competed. That Iowa win was unbelievable, because they’re really good. I just wish we had a little more in the reserve for Purdue, because I think we were right there.”
“I think it’s taught our program and our young guys that we can compete, and that we are good enough. It’s very obvious to me. If you steal one [game] in January, you steal one or two more in February… Let’s just say, we’re still playing right now, we’re still practicing.”
The Nittany Lions lost 10 conference games by 10 points or less, and stealing a win would have certainly helped Penn State when it came to postseason play. Chambers said the team had an invitation to the CBI for the second straight year, but he felt, after the way it finished, that his team would benefit more from looking towards the future.
“For me, I felt like we were finishing on a high note,” Chambers said. “I felt like we were capturing a lot of the fans back, and the national media as well. I feel like they really respected the way we played, and how we finished so strong. It’s never easy when you’re 3-13, to keep your guys engaged. It’s very difficult for your staff. The fact that they stayed dialed in and were the best team they could be at the end of the year says a lot about them. So finishing three out of four the way we did, I felt like, ‘You know what? We’re the best team we can be. Let’s start working on next year, on getting better, on our habits and skill development.'”
“After that game [the loss against Purdue], I didn’t see a dry eye in the locker room, and I knew, we’re closer than we’ve ever been, without question. There was some hurt, and some suffering, and some genuine pain in that locker room. That’s when I knew, we’re coming. We’re gonna be young, but we’re coming.”
Despite those close losses, though, the season was a growing experience for Penn State’s young players. The team’s leading scorer, Newbill, and its leading rebounder, Ross Travis, will be lost to graduation, but Chambers is confident that young stars such as Brandon Taylor, Geno Thorpe, and Shep Garner will be able to carry the load next year.
“We’re gonna lose D.J. That’s 20 points,” he said. “We’re not going to be the same team we were the last three years with Tim [Frazier] and D.J. There’s not one guy that is gonna hold the torch. We’re gonna have to share the basketball, we’re gonna have to put it inside, we’re gonna have to do different things, which is exciting for me, because that’s what I’m gonna start doing in a week or so here, trying to figure out the best way to play in the future.”
“We’re excited. We’ve already started our spring workouts, our guys wanted to get back into the gym. It’s exciting. We’re gonna start lifting today, and we’re in a good place heading into the offseason.”
Photo: Bobby Chen/Onward State