Giger: Stevens’ decision great news for Chambers

Commentary

UNIVERSITY PARK — Good for Patrick Chambers. He deserved this.

Make no mistake about what happened last week, when Lamar Stevens decided to return for his senior season of Penn State basketball.

That decision saved Chambers’ job. Or at least, it gives Chambers a fighting chance to keep his job.

Had Stevens made an unwise decision and turned pro a year early, Penn State probably would have been lousy this winter. In the neighborhood of 10-20 overall and near the bottom of the Big Ten kind of lousy.

That probably would have gotten Chambers fired.

Instead, with a first-team all-Big Ten player in Stevens returning, the Nittany Lions have a chance to be pretty good. Good enough to make the NCAA Tournament? Maybe, maybe not, but at least in bubble territory.

As I’ve said repeatedly in recent years, just being on the bubble is an accomplishment for Penn State. Any realistic fan needs to understand that, since the program has only been to five NCAA Tournaments in the last 63 years.

Chambers has done a good job at Penn State.

I know, I know, some people refuse to believe that. He’s an abysmal 45-101 in the Big Ten during his eight seasons, and 127-140 overall, so many people who don’t follow PSU basketball closely look only at those records and think he should have been gone already.

But there is no question Chambers has improved the Lions’ overall talent level during his tenure. His teams are extremely competitive and are in just about every game down to the final minute.

He’s a good dude, a fun guy, an energetic and charismatic coach, and someone who represents Penn State very well.

In short, it’s easy to root for Patrick Chambers.

Yes, he deserves criticism for failing to deliver more wins in close games in the last two minutes. But if Chambers were to be ousted, there’s a good chance the next coach wouldn’t attract good enough players to even be competitive for the first 38 minutes of every game.

If you think Penn State is a great destination for top high school prospects, you just don’t understand the landscape of college basketball. Chambers has landed some outstanding recruits, and he deserves a little bit more time to see what he can do with them.

If he can keep them, that is.

A year ago, Tony Carr made a decision that was crushing for Penn State, and for Chambers.

Carr decided to turn pro after two seasons at PSU, even though his game wasn’t NBA ready. He was drafted 51st overall but didn’t come close to making an NBA roster and spent last season in Europe.

Had Carr played for the Lions last year, they would have been in the NCAA Tournament. I strongly believe that. Carr would have teamed with Stevens to give PSU a dynamic duo and potentially a Sweet 16 caliber team.

But Carr’s early departure set the team back immensely.

Was it Chambers’ fault that the kid decided to leave?

No.

But Chambers took the blame when PSU started 0-10 in the Big Ten, because Carr was gone and it left a massive hole in the roster.

The same thing likely would have happened next season had Stevens departed early. It would have taken the team three months of the season to figure things out, with only the hope of finishing strong, as the Lions did last year by going 7-3 in their final 10 regular-season games.

That at least salvaged a 14-18 record and 7-13 mark in the Big Ten.

Penn State did lose freshman guard Rasir Bolton, who transferred to Iowa State, and that will hurt. But things could have been much, much worse had Stevens left.

“In years past it hasn’t worked out for us. We’ve had guys transfer late. We’ve had guys leave. We’ve had guys who have an extra year of eligibility but still go to Europe. We’ve had all these situations,” Chambers said.

“For us only to lose one and then to be able to get Lamar Stevens back, it shows his true character, his integrity, what type of kid he is.”

Chambers went to Philadelphia to spend time with Stevens and his family to try and convince him to stay. The coach said he has to do that type of re-recruitment with every player.

“Not just Lamar, I went out and saw most of my players in the month of April and May, and that’s what we have to do now,” Chambers said.

If Penn State has a bad season with this Stevens-led squad, then yes, Chambers should and will be on the hot seat. Athletic director Sandy Barbour would be well within reason to fire the coach if the Lions aren’t at least on the bubble or in the NIT.

Without Stevens, there’s virtually no way the Lions would be on the bubble or in the NIT next season.

With Stevens back, Chambers at least has a chance.

The coach needs to make the most of it.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ‘Toona 1430-AM.

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