Penn State coach catches dance fever

Chambers' Nittany Lions are struggling through a difficult Big Ten season. But pitching in to help the school's annual Dance Marathon, which benefits kids who are fighting cancer, is keeping things in perspective.

It has been a tough year for Penn State basketball coach Pat Chambers.

He lost star point guard Tim Frazier to a ruptured Achilles' tendon early in the season. In a year when the Big Ten is loaded with talent, it has become obvious that no player is more important to his team than Frazier is to this one.

And Chambers just happened to lose Frazier in a season where the Big Ten is as powerful as ever top to bottom. With no natural point guard, the Nittany Lions have struggled scoring in the league (54.8 ppg). And on those rare nights when a few shots do fall, for some star-crossed reason the defense goes soft.

It has all translated into an 0-11 start to conference play. With a defeat to favored Iowa at the Jordan Center Thursday night, PSU will match its worst Big Ten opening ever — 2009-10, when it went 0-12.

And yet Chambers does not have to look far to gain perspective for his on-court woes. As the Nittany Lions were preparing for Iowa earlier this week, crews were already hard at work preparing the BJC for Penn State's 2013 Dance Marathon (THON). The event, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday, has raised more than $89 million for the fight against pediatric cancer since its inception in 1977.

More than 700 student dancers, thousands of student volunteers and tens of thousands of supporters will pack the arena for the world's largest student-run philanthropy.

Since Chambers and the Lions will be at Michigan for a road game this weekend, he devised a couple of unique ways to help the cause. First, he shaved his head, as part of the “No Hair, Don't Care” THON-related promotion where people shave their heads to help raise money for children who lose their hair due to cancer treatments.

Monday, Chambers announced that he and his wife Courtney will donate $10 to THON for every Penn State student who attends Thursday night's game with the Hawkeyes.

“I have three children, and they're all healthy,” Chambers said. “So I'm one of the lucky ones. And that's where it started. Then I received an email about (shaving) my head, and there was no question — no hair, don't care. We're gonna be away this weekend, so I'm not going to be able to address the crowd like I did last year. And it's one of the most amazing events that I think I've ever seen in my lifetime. It's special, these students and what they're doing for pediatric cancer.”

THON raised a record $10.6 million last year. The goal this year is to eclipse the $11 million mark. Chambers is happy to lend a hand.

“I just wanted to be a part of it in some way,” he said. “My wife and I spoke Sunday night at great length about what we could do and how we could be a part of it and how we can make a powerful impact. And this is what we came up with. We really want to help these kids, and I know they want to get to $11 million. I just figured, we could help get the ball rolling with a powerful punch.”

It is difficult to gauge how many students will actually attend Thursday's game. The action tips at 9 p.m. Eastern, which is a late start for these parts. It also happens to be Valentine's Day. And, of course, the marathon starts the next day.

Nevertheless, Chambers hopes the student section (PSU sold about 1,400 student season tickets this year) is jammed — even if it means more money coming out of his wallet.

“It would be great,” he said. “But I also understand if they don't (show up). It's the night before (the event). It would be awesome for our team and awesome for the BJC. It would be great for the energy to get all of the students here at a game. But obviously, that was the fifth reason on the list. It's really about THON and what they're trying to do. But it would be a lot of fun to get a good crowd.”

In his second season with the Lions, Chambers admittedly did not know much about THON before arriving on campus. But he learned in a hurry when he was asked to speak to the crowd at last year's event.

“THON has just blown me away,” he said. “I don't really get nervous in front of people. I actually was nervous last year and I looked around and it was, what, 15 (thousand people) and change here. That was powerful to me and for me, and I'm sure it was for my team. That has stuck with me since.”

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