Pat Chambers on getting through a difficult season
CHICAGO — Penn State entered the Big Ten Tournament as the No.13 seed.
The Nittany Lions came out firing and took down No. 12 Nebraska Wednesday, and then knocked off No.5 Iowa Thursday. Next came a matchup with No.4 Purdue Friday, a game in which PSU led before tired legs proved costly in a 64-59 loss.
Afterward, standing outside a somber PSU locker room in the fluorescent-lit bowels of the United Center, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour acknowledged something that has become increasingly clear during her seven months on the job — her will to make a solid, substantial commitment to the basketball program.
Starting with a commitment to fourth-year head coach Pat Chambers.
“I think the biggest commitment is just to take a look at everything,” Barbour said. “Where are we falling short, where are we not supporting this program enough or not supporting it in the right ways. Certainly, I have made a very public commitment to Pat. And he is my guy. I support what he is doing and I support his long term leadership of this program. Once the season is over — and I don’t think it’s over yet — once the season is over, we will sit down and talk about his contract because I want to make a commitment there to him.”
She speaks with a sense of ease about the program, and the way she sneaks her commitment to the postseason into the conversation makes it seem like such an obvious choice. Barbour is very clear, Penn State basketball will pursue postseason options, and she has her gaze set on the NIT.
“Yes. We will. Absolutely,” she said when asked if the Lions would accept a postseason bid. “I think we are an NIT-caliber program and that is what we are going to push for. We are going to advocate for.”
For those near the program, there are several reasons why the 18-16 Nittany Lions belong in the postseason.
“I think you look at what we have done down the stretch, and you look at the entirety of our schedule. We played a very difficult schedule,” Barbour said. “Particularly in the non-conference. I think you look at those close games (in conference), the ones we actually lost. I think if you look that we have one of the top 10 scorers in the nation. I think if you look at the fact that the coaches not only in this league, but around the country, would they want to play Penn State basketball right now? They would tell you, heck no. I think that speaks volumes to should we be playing in the postseason and playing in the NIT, and I think the answer to that is yes.”
In Barbour’s eyes, one of the more impressive things about the PSU program this year is that the Lions have never given up, even during a pair of six-game Big Ten losing streaks. She credits Chambers for developing that type of player.
“Those guys would run through a brick wall for him. They will fight, and I love all those same traits in him. He is going to fight for me, he’s going to fight for Penn State. I am going to fight for him.”
“Those guys would run through a brick wall for him,” Barbour said. “They will fight, and I love all those same traits in him. He is going to fight for me, he’s going to fight for Penn State. I am going to fight for him. That is the kind of relationship that I really enjoy with Pat, and that he enjoys with our entire community. And I think if you can’t get behind that, I’m not sure what you can get behind.”
With that in mind, this week’s run in Chicago did not surprise the athletic director at all.
“First and foremost ,I love these guys, and I love this team, and I love the heart with which they have represented the university and Nittany Nation and the community,” she said. “And so I was just happy for them to achieve some success. To see some success and have a lot of folks get behind them. To get people taking about Penn State men’s basketball the last couple days, although it probably ended a little bit shorter than we would have hoped, we are really, really proud of their effort. I think it is a precursor of things to come for Penn State men’s basketball.”
After the Nittany Lions’ run to the quarterfinals in Chicago, Barbour is hoping to spearhead and spark even more interest in the program.
“First of all, I think you have a coach who embodies all of those characteristics that I think the Penn State community is about,” she said. “It’s about toughness and resilience, and values of integrity and character and the things that he demands of his young men on a daily basis. … That is why you want to support and follow Penn State men’s basketball.”