TIPTON - Patrick Chambers has two immediate missions: get players and improve Penn State's image in basketball.
He spent Monday evening working the Nittany Lions' local fan base as he delivered an upbeat talk to about 75 well-wishers at DelGrosso Park.
"We're trying to change the perception of who we are and what we want to be," he said. "You have to drum up the interest in basketball, and if they [fans] feel they have relationship with you, they'll come out. I'm trying to create a bond and change the perception that men's basketball is an elite program, a big-time program. You have to act that way."
New Penn?State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers chats with Sandi Kaminsky at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park on Monday evening during a meet-and-greet gathering to promote the Nittany Lions’ program.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
This kind of challenge is not new to Chambers, the former Villanova assistant who took Boston University - "a hockey school," he said - to the NCAA Tournament. Attendance in the early going was around 750 per game, he said, but interest mushroomed to luring 4,000 for the America East championship game.
He hopes to preside over the same kind of growth spurt at PSU.
"The perception is people aren't into basketball [here]," he said. "That's not true. They just went to the NCAA Tournament. It's my job to keep the enthusiasm where it is and take it to a new level."
Chambers, 40, has seen every evidence of a committed administration - another knock on PSU over the years. He said athletic director Tim Curley "texts me every few days, asking me if I need anything," and PSU president Graham Spanier visited with the newly-formed coaching staff to spend time with the assistant coaches.
Since his hiring two months ago, Chambers has criss-crossed the country visiting the current Nittany Lion players and their families and beating the recruiting trails.
"We have good leads on big-time players," he said, adding he will find players that suit him, and Penn State, without worrying about how many stars are attached to a recruit's resume by "someone who might not have even played the game."
The Lions lost standout Talor Battle to graduation and will be rebuilding - to the point where Chambers easily laughed when someone in the audience suggested "no pressure, but it only took [wrestling coach] Cael Sanderson two years. How long will it take you?"
"Be patient," was the coach's response.
The Chambers Era will begin by hosting Hartford on Saturday, Nov. 12 - the same day the Lion football team is hosting Nebraska. Chambers, though, will not shy away from the football shadow. He schmoozed with Joe Paterno over the July 4 weekend at JoePa's summer home in Avalon, N.J., and called it "a thrill of a lifetime."
That was actually the first question - "have you met Joe?" - he got Monday.
"It was awesome," Chambers said. "We sat on his deck, talked about life and philosophy. He gave me some good tidbits on Penn State on how to navigate and how to be successful. Football is the gold standard. I would never compete with that. In fact, I want to tap into what they do. I want to tap into their passion."
Chambers exuded the confidence to take the fleeting great moments attained by each of the past four coaches - Dick Harter, Bruce Parkhill, Jerry Dunn and Ed DeChellis - and turn them into a more consistent, winning Big Ten program.
He distributed attitude bands and said, "that will be the foundation of our program."
Freddy DelGrosso, who hosted the event, said many of the longtime PSU fans asked him if the summer gathering could become annual.
"That," he said, "will be up to the coach."
To which Chambers could only say, "Trust me."
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.