FGCU basketball coach Pat Chambers is shaped by his mentors, guided by his life pillars

Naples Daily News
Naples Daily News

Pat Chambers has five pillars. And four mentors.

Plus some scars, literally and figuratively.

All of them are reminders and philosophies that FGCU's fifth men's basketball coach will use as he constructs his program.

Chambers has been going back and forth from his Philadelphia home to Southwest Florida since being introduced on March 15.

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And it's been a strange period, with outgoing head coach Michael Fly, who was fired March 5, still coaching the Eagles in The Basketball Classic through March 21 when they lost in the quarterfinals.

Chambers, a 51-year-old from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, is still in the process of assembling a staff and meeting with players.

The former Penn State coach will go all the way back to his grade school days as he and the Eagles start anew.

Tutelage began early

Pat Chambers doesn't need time to think about who the people are that guided him through his basketball career. He has them still on speed dial.

Tom Rayer, Herb Magee, Don Dougherty, and Jay Wright are all successful coaches who helped mold Chambers during different parts of his life. And they remain a part as he keeps in touch with all of them.

And that goes all the way back to Rayer, who was his grade school coach.

"He gave me love of the game," Chambers said. "He planted the seed. Tom nurtured it and developed it and brought it out of me. He brought just the basics and the fundamentals of basketball into my life, which always transitions to your life."

Chambers played in high school and decided at first to walk-on at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He said it had a good work-study program.

"I thought that was the best thing for me, play basketball and get ready to work in the real world," Chambers said. "It was perfect, and that was the plan."

But Drexel coach Eddie Burke was let go, and Chambers decided to go to Philadelphia Textile (now Thomas Jefferson University) under Magee, a legendary coach who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.

"He taught me the offensive side of the game," Chambers said. "He taught me player-coach relationship. He taught me about loyalty. ... He knew how to gather young men."

"I really enjoyed practices, too. I came from more drill work in my youth. When I got to college it was more 5 on 5. I saw a different way to plan practices, a different way to approach the game. And he let us play. He didn't stop every two seconds, every possession. That was unique. I thought for the early 90s, he was ahead of the curve for a lot of the things that we do today."

Chambers did more than just learn from Magee for his future coaching career. He quickly became a key player, earning a starting spot and a scholarship. He was first-team All-ECAC, and left as the school record holder in assists with 709, four NCAA Division II Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights.

After Chambers' collegiate playing career, he was an assistant at Delaware Valley (Pa.) College in 1995-96, then he joined a printing and copying business with brothers Paul, Joe and Chris (he is one of 12 siblings).

Dougherty (pronounced Dockerty) had been the head coach at Army. As Chambers pointed out, he's the answer to a trivia question. Dougherty was an assistant and then was promoted to replace Bob Knight, who left for Indiana. He lasted from 1972-75 with future Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski replacing him.

Dougherty ended up at Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia and was looking for an assistant coach. He reached out to Chambers.

"I really didn't want to do it," Chambers said.

"Just come one day a week," Dougherty asked.

Chambers did. After a few weeks, he was there every day. The next season, Dougherty called him again.

"I've got to move on," Chambers told him. "My business is booming and I need to spend more time in the business world."

"You can't do this to me," Dougherty told him. "You've got to come down one day a week."

Chambers reluctantly agreed. And ended up coming every day again.

Chambers had a couple of good reasons to come, he helped get future NBA player Wayne Ellington to enroll in Episcopal Academy, and Gerald Henderson, another future NBA player, also was playing there.

The foundation of pillars laid

Chambers actually thought about going into coaching full-time and was in the process of interviewing to become a high school head coach.

One fateful night in 2002 nearly changed everything.

According to reports, Chambers ran into a woman he knew from high school and two friends of hers, a married couple. The husband ended up attacking Chambers, stabbing him twice in the neck with a broken wine glass.

Chambers was stabbed half a centimeter from his aorta.

"I almost died," he said. "I still have the clothes. I still have the ripped jeans. I still have the shoes that I wore that night."

Chambers went home from the hospital a few days later to recover. He sat down with his brother Tim, who directed the movie "The Mighty Macs", and talked about what he wanted to do and what was important to him.

"We would just talk about experiences, and the depth of those experiences, and how these pillars start to come together," Chambers said. "It took us a long time to put them together."

From there, Chambers came up with what he calls his five pillars: accountability, faith, humility, gratitude, and passion.

More than just pillars came out of that. So did a positive attitude that Chambers has more or less vowed to keep, no matter what obstacles come up. And they have.

"I felt like because of the stabbing, I could play the victim or I could choose to have a great attitude and get back to living, get back to working hard, get back to being who I was," Chambers said. "Not being afraid, not being revengeful, not being bitter, not being pissed off, not 'Why me? Why me? Why me?'

"Instead of doing that game, I went over to this side and said 'I'm going to have a great attitude. I'm going to stay positive. I'm going to work hard and I'm going to face these little challenges that I have.'"

The stabbing was on a Saturday night. What was supposed to be Chambers' final interview for the high school head coaching job was scheduled for the following Tuesday.

"My No. 1 pillar is faith," Chambers said. "I think I was about to get a high school head coaching job because of Dan Dougherty. I was literally inside the 5-yard line of taking the job.

"(God) had a crazy way of telling me 'You're not taking this job.'"

Chambers stayed at Episcopal. Villanova head coach Jay Wright's children were going to the lower school there, and Dougherty talked to Wright about Chambers.

"This guy has got something special," Dougherty told Wright.

Wright listened and eventually added Chambers as director of basketball operations in 2004-05. While Wright may have done so with the idea that Ellington and Henderson would sign with him at Villanova, that didn't happen. Ellington went to North Carolina, and Henderson went to Duke.

And Chambers figured he'd probably be gone. Instead, another assistant left, and Wright promoted him.

"I didn't get either of these kids," Chambers said. "What good am I? He promoted me anyway."

Chambers eventually became associate head coach in 2008-09 when the Wildcats made the first Final Four under Wright.

"I'm forever grateful for what he taught me and the belief that he had in me and the faith that he had in me even when I didn't succeed," Chambers said. "To have that type of backing? Man, did that give me crazy confidence."

Boston University noticed, and Chambers was named a head coach for the first time in 2009. He went 21-14 in each of his two seasons, leading the Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in his second season in 2010-11.

"He just taught me the business," Chambers said of Wright. "He taught me the lens from the CEO. That is just not coaching. It's not just recruiting. It's more. It's obviously relationships that will be there. It's community. It's charity.

"It's getting on the cafeteria tables to engage. I was at Villanova when it wasn't sold out, when the demand for the tickets was not like they are now. He taught me all of that, and how that all kind of completes the circle of being the CEO of a big-time college program. That's what I tried to bring to BU."

Going home

A return to Pennsylvania, as the head coach at Penn State was next. The job was and still remains one of the most challenging in the Big Ten.

And it was a challenge, for sure. Chambers was 12-20 his first season and 10-21 in the second. The Nittany Lions went 16-18 in his third, and 18-16 in his fourth, followed by 16-16 and 15-18. He was just 87-109 after six seasons.

Finally, Penn State and Chambers broke through in 2017-18. Then Lions went 21-13, then won five games to win the NIT.

"It was cool to see our team come together," said Community School of Naples graduate Trent Buttrick, a freshman that year. "We had a lot of disconnect with the team my freshman year, but we had a lot of talent."

Penn State slipped to 14-18 the next season, but was ranked in the top 10 during the 2019-20 season, and was in contention for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011, and just second since 2001. But the coronavirus pandemic canceled the tournament, and Penn State finished 21-10.

Then Chambers faced another obstacle, one that could have ended his coaching career.

In 2018-19, there had been a sign that things were starting to unravel for Chambers. On Jan. 3, he pushed guard Myles Dread in the chest during a timeout in a loss to Michigan that dropped Penn State to 7-7 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten.

Chambers was suspended for a game. The next day, he had a meeting with freshman Rasir Bolton, who had been struggling.

"I want to be a stress reliever for you," Bolton later said Chambers told him. "You can talk to me about anything. I need to get some of this pressure off you. I want to loosen the noose that's around your neck."

Player Jamari Wheeler later said that Chambers apologized to Bolton for the remark in person, and then in front of the team the following day.

After the Michigan loss, Penn State lost seven straight to slide to 0-10 in the Big Ten, but went 7-3 after that, then lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament to Minnesota.

Bolton transferred to Iowa State, then in July of 2020, posted on Twitter about the reason he had left Penn State -- Chambers' noose comment and that he and his family were not satisfied with the response by Chambers or the school administration, saying they had met multiple times regarding it.

Bolton then spoke with ESPN about the situation, and Penn State launched an investigation.

According to former Penn State player Izaiah Brockington in a podcast last week, Nittany Lions players were interviewed, and as the summer went on, he said players thought the issue was behind them. But at a meeting between players and Chambers, Chambers let on that the investigation was ongoing and told the players that they needed to stick together.

So players went to meet with the administration and were told no decision had been made regarding Chambers. The next day, Oct. 21, 2020, Chambers told players at the end of practice that he had resigned, and the school stated that it had uncovered other "allegations of inappropriate conduct by Chambers" without detailing them.

"When he left it was kind of weird, because I kind of felt that it was going to happen but I didn't know when," said Buttrick, who played four years at Penn State then was a graduate transfer at UMass this season. "I thought it was probably going to happen in the summer. He coached us all the way up until October.

"When he told us, everybody was pretty much in shock. Nobody was happy with the administration."

In his mind, Chambers went back 18 years earlier, to the stabbing, and to his outlook after it.

"It really helped me get through what happened at Penn State," he said. "It helped me get through some of the challenges that I've been through when you're losing and you're on the hot seat for seven years out of the 10 years you're at Penn State.

"(The stabbing and what happened after) was an amazing life lesson, learning lesson. It's really helped me be a better coach, parent, brother, just overall person because I choose not to play the victim. I choose to say 'You know what I'm just going to keep moving forward.'"

After the resignation, Chambers was going to take another year off but was approached by La Salle head coach Ashley Howard prior to the 2021-22 season. Much like he did back at Episcopal Academy, he was first a volunteer coach, then eventually was brought on as a full-time assistant.

Now he's a head coach again. And he'll go back to try and repeat what he accomplished at Penn State, including putting multiple players into the NBA. ESPN, using data from 2010-18, had rated Chambers seventh nationally in player development (Wright was No. 1).

Building the Eagles

Chambers believes he has players to develop at FGCU.

"I think there's talent here where we can score the basketball," he said. "I think the real concern here is player development. We've got to get kids better.

"Once we get to the fall, really start to dial in on defending and rebounding. I think that when shots don't go in, and we're not scoring, especially on the road that happens — we're not making 3s, we're just missing bunnies. Now we rely on our staple, which is our defending and our rebounding."

Offensively, Chambers termed his style a "controlled fast," getting over half-court quickly but running an offense if something isn't immediately available. He described it as a meshing of Wright's at Villanova and also what he picked up from his time in the Big Ten, from coaches like Fran McCaffrey at Iowa and mainly from Tom Izzo at Michigan State.

"It was Villanova, Michigan State, and I kind of put those two together to create Penn State basketball," he said. "... I think that style of play is going to be one that fans want to come out and see."

Chambers likes to use a 1-2-2, 3/4-court defense that may include pressure or may not, depending on the situation and the personnel on the floor.

"I kind of mastered (it) over the years ad took it from Jay and kind of made it mine and put some wrinkles into it," he said. "Whether it's taking time off the clock, whether it's getting steals ... I think it's going to get us some opportunities to get some easy baskets."

Chambers has already — unofficially — added his first player with former Saint Joseph's guard Dahmir Bishop reportedly committing. Chambers can't comment on recruits until they sign or enroll. Bishop averaged 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, and has two years of eligibility remaining.

How many spots Chambers will have available to add are still to be determined. Some players from this season's 22-12 team may choose to leave, but he's expecting most if not all to stay.

It's been discovered that 6-foot-11 center Kevin Samuel, the ASUN Defensive Player of the Year and one of the nation's leaders in blocks, has an additional year of eligibility if he chooses to use it. That already was the case for four-year program member Caleb Catto, a Southwest Florida Christian graduate who has been a full-time starter for the past three years.

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So the decisions by Samuel and Catto will impact how Chambers recruits.

Guards Cyrus Largie, Austin Richie, Franco Miller Jr., Luis Rolon, Victor Rosa, forwards Dakota Rivers, Zach Anderson, and center Andre Weir can return. If all of them and Samuel and Catto come back, that leaves three spots for Chambers, not including Bishop.

Chambers also is working on his staff, which currently includes holdover assistants Kevin Sutton, Justin Furr, and Orin Bailey Jr., but Chambers also has said he will look to have assistants who were with him during his 10-year tenure at Penn State.

Like he's already home

FGCU fans will be getting their first look at Chambers, but he already has seen them and knows the area well. One of his brothers has had a residence in Naples for 25 or 30 years, and a few years ago, Chambers bought one near him.

And during 2020-21, that's where he spent a lot of his time, along with his wife Courtney and children Grace, Ryan, Caitlin, and Patrick — a family he referred to as his rock.

"This community was incredibly helpful to me during a tough time for me and my family," he said. "I've made so many great relationships. Some of the men and women were here at the press conference (on March 15) that were kind of my support system. I'm grateful for that."

Community School of Naples boys basketball coach Greg Donahue became part of that. Chambers recruited Buttrick a few years ago, but from there, their relationship grew.

"He's great," Donahue said. "We're similar age. He's one of 12 kids from an Irish Catholic family from Philly. I'm one of 13 from an Irish Catholic family in Pittsburgh.

"We both enjoy winning more than losing. I'd say he's a little more intense than myself. There's just different ways to get it done. He coaches the guys hard. They all seem to like him and respect him."

Chambers' graciousness will carry over to his new job, where athletic director Ken Kavanagh is seeking his energy and passion to not only increase success on and off the court, but get more fans excited about coming. FGCU's attendance this season was its lowest since Andy Enfield's first season in 2011-12.

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"I have family down here," Chambers said. "I have really close friends down here that were all here. I know places to go, and I shook a lot of hands. I had a lot of coffee meetings. I had a lot of one-glass-of-wine meetings. I think that kind of puts me a little bit ahead.

"I think because of those relationships it set me up. I've driven through here before. I've been to a practice here and I've been to a game here before."

Buttrick thinks Chambers can be successful, and he's seen it at Penn State.

"I think he'll do a good job of bringing some guys in and instilling a good culture there and trying to develop a winning program," he said.

Pat Chambers Career Record

Boston University (America East)

Year Overall Conf. Postseason

2009–10 21–14 11–5 CBI Semifinal

2010–11 21–14 12–4 NCAA Division I Round of 64

Penn State (Big Ten)

2011–12 12–20 4–14

2012–13 10–21 2–16

2013–14 16–18 6–12 CBI Quarterfinal

2014–15 18–16 4–14

2015–16 16–16 7–11

2016–17 15–18 6–12

2017–18 26–13 9–9 NIT Champion

2018–19 14–18 7–13

2019–20 21–10 11–9

Overall: 190–178

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at

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