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For the first time since 1994, the Boston University men’s basketball bench will be patrolled by someone other than Dennis Wolff. After 15 seasons and a school record 247 wins, Wolff was dismissed as head coach in March following another first round exit in the America East tournament. After a nation-wide search of qualified candidates, BU Athletic Director Mike Lynch decided on Villanova assistant Pat Chambers to take the Terriers to the next level. Coach Chambers took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to Sports of Boston.
Though Chambers comes from a top-echelon NCAA program at Villanova, the first year head coach knew of the tradition the BU program brings as he was being talked about for the job.
“Once the job was offered I did a lot of research, as did my wife and everyone and it really just worked out for everybody,” Chambers said. “(Villanova head coach) Jay Wright was friendly with coach Wolff and was aware of what a great program BU was and the tradition it has. Since we’ve moved we have really loved it up here. I’m very excited at what coach Wolff left for me. We’re going to be fighting every game out there.”
Leaving a program that reached the Final Four last season comes with its perks, as in having the opportunity to learn from a first-rate head coach. Chambers served five years as an assistant to Jay Wright, viewed as one of the best young coaches in the entire country.
“Jay is my mentor, I owe everything to him,” Chambers said. “He gave me my chance to learn under him for five years, and to do what we’ve done, ending with a Final Four, it’s been amazing. He basically told me to be myself, work hard, bring great attitude, keep things simple and hire a great staff. These first few months have been crazy but I’m really loving every minute of it.”
Chambers comes into a double edged sword situation at BU. There is no doubt the Terriers will have one of the most talented teams in recent memory on Comm. Ave (this side of it of course), but Chambers has to replace a coach who has defined the Terriers program for a decade and a half as well as breath new life into a team chalk full of seniors.
“Taking over for coach Wolff is difficult because what he’s done for 15 years is amazing,” Chambers said. “All I can do is the best I can. I just wish I had more years with these seniors, to get to know them more. Unfortunately we have just a year so I’m just going to try to simplify and use some terminology from last year. I want them to be confident and have clear heads. We need to go out and play, and take pride in what we’re doing.
“We’re trying to change the attitude of the program and keep it upbeat and energetic. An important part is the chemistry on team. We have to play hard and compete every night. If we do those things we’re going to be okay. My job is to motivate the team and make sure they understand that seniors are going to lead this team. We have nine seniors and I want them to take ownership.”
Despite having a senior-laden team the Terriers will rely heavily on two underclassmen in the 09-10 season. Junior John Holland is already one of the best players in America East (posterizing here and here) but the Terriers nearly lost sophomore-to-be Jake O’Brien. Shortly after Wolff’s firing, the 6’8″ reigning America East Rookie of the Year announced he wanted to transfer. After BU allowed him to start looking at other schools, Chambers went about courting O’Brien as if he was a fresh recruit. Chambers’ efforts were successful as O’Brien recently announced that he’d be returning to the Terriers.
“Keeping Jake is just great,” Chambers said. “I treated him like any other recruit. I recruited him as if he was new because I had to develop a relationship with him and his family. It’s very important for his team and our program’s future to keep a guy with the caliber and skills like Jake. He’s very excited to come back and work hard. He said he’s learned some life lessons throughout the process.”
Despite only having the job for a few months, Chambers has already instituted some technological changes to the program. Through his blog (http://coachpatchambers.blogspot.com/) and Twitter page (twitter.com/Coach_Chambers), Chambers gives BU basketball fans a window into the Terrier program we could only dream of in the previous administration. Chambers says his short term goals range from making the community more aware of the quality in the Terrier program and to start filling Agganis Arena.
“As a new coach, you hope everyone takes a liking to you and your program,” Chambers said. “I just keep trying to get in front of the students to let them know these kids are gonna work hard and
we will play a style of basketball you are going to like. Using these media outlets will help get people to come out that usually wouldn’t. Maybe they see my twitter or my blog and think, ‘this is cool guy who is putting himself out there.’ Of course, it’s not about me, it’s about the program and the university. If we fill the arena the players will feel pride in the program and want to play harder. We’re going to do it. I want this to be the most amazing place to watch basketball.
“First we have to win. All I do, it won’t matter if we don’t win. To get more people to attend of course we’ll have prizes and contests as well as pre and post game receptions. Whatever we can do to make this bigger so people know it’s not just a game but a big event to come to.”
A tough non-conference has become a staple of Boston University basketball and 09-10 will be no different as the Terriers will compete in the pre-season Puerto Rico tip-off which includes some of the best teams in the country including Indiana, Georgia Tech, George Mason, Dayton and, ironically, Villanova. Chambers talked about his long term goals for the program and what it would be like to face Villanova.
“We have to play hard and get this team playing together,” he said. “I think if we do that and get better every day and not worrying about the NCAA tournament and championships right away but just getting better every day and playing hard the other stuff will take care of itself. We need to commit to one another and those who came before us. We want to get Agganis filled and create great pride in BU basketball, the kind of pride you have in hockey team.
“Playing ‘Nova would be mixed emotions. I love Jay and love staff and players but this is my team and this is where my loyalty is from here on out.”
My Take: As a 2007 graduate of Boston University I can personally testify to the excitement being generated already on Comm. Avenue by the new hiring. What I saw during my tenure at BU was tons of promise (two straight NIT appearances, back-to-back wins against Michigan, beating floppy haired Taylor Coppenwrath at the Agganis opener) yet was overshadowed by disappointments including four straight early exits in the AE tourney: Stony Brook (first round and at home), Maine (first round), Vermont (first round), Albany (second round, also at home) and numerous transfers of quality players like Etienne Brower (UMass), Tony Gaffney (UMass) and Corey Hassan (Sacred Heart). Despite the number of years he had been around and the number of wins he racked up, Dennis Wolff finally ran out of free passes after yet another promising season led to a first round exit in the America East tournament.
What’s refreshing about coach Chambers is both his personal attitude and his utilization of technology. His blog includes several first person videos of his travels around the country and the campus and give fans/alumni an inside look at just what our highly paid coaches are doing in the off-season. Obviously, Twitter has become a fad that rivals the old pet rocks yet is a great way to get out information (I won’t lie, I found out about Jake O’Brien’s return to BU through Chambers’ Twitter page).
Athletic Director Mike Lynch went out on a limb by firing a well-known head coach who still had a few years left on his contract and hiring someone hiring with zero games under his belt as the head of a program. However, through just the first few months of his tenure, Chambers seems to have the program ready to explode onto the local scene and we haven’t even seen how he’s going to utilize the quality of a roster which returns all of the core pieces.
Chambers certainly has the attitude and pedigree to lead BU back to the NCAA tournament. If he can find a way to fill Agganis Arena on a consistent basis and attract the top level recruits BU fans crave we could be seeing a new, dominating era of Boston University basketball.