Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the FreeP: Chambers envisions BU as mid-major powerhouse

By Craig Meyer/DFP Staff

From the moment that Boston University men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers stepped up to the podium on April 7, 2009 to be introduced as the program’s next head man, he had a vision for Terrier basketball, a look to the future of the program that has produced immediate dividends.

He has looked to have his teams embody his personality, something of an aggressive and passionate mix of defense and rebounding paired with a high-octane offense that utilizes quick transitions and fast break opportunities.

He has put a special emphasis on “Attitude,” a core tenant that if his players continually look to get better, work hard and tap at the proverbial stone, that together, they will ultimately be successful.

But perhaps more than anything, Chambers has looked to change BU basketball far beyond the X’s and O’s of game preparation and execution.

When he boldly declared that he looked at the Terriers like a potential “Gonzaga or Xavier of the Northeast,” it became clear that Chambers had far more on his mind than winning percentages, conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.

What Chambers wanted to do was fundamentally change the culture that had long surrounded the basketball program at BU, one of apathy and borderline-stagnation even under successful coaches like Rick Pitino, Mike Jarvis and Chambers’ predecessor, Dennis Wolff.

Yes, he envisioned building a winning team, but that winning team would also be playing in front of a sold-out Agganis Arena that cheered it on and supported it in the same way they cheer on the heralded men’s hockey program.

It was and still remains an undoubtedly tall task and imposing challenge and roughly 23 months into his tenure, Chambers has fulfilled at least part of what he promised when he first took the job – that is, he has put forth a successful product on the court. In each of his two seasons on Commonwealth Avenue, Chambers’ BU teams have won 20 or more games and have made the America East Tournament championship game, with the possibility of a first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance still very much within reach.

But the other side of the equation – the widespread energy, enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the program on campus – has yet to completely come to fruition at this point, at least based on attendance figures. The Terriers averaged 968 fans per game in the 2009-10 season, Chambers’ first, and posted a figure of 756 this season, his second.

Converting indifference to jubilation has proven to be no easy chore, but BU’s on-court success – spearheaded by a current ten-game win streak – has afforded it to host the conference championship game at Agganis Arena, a game that is not only BU’s remaining obstacle to reaching the Big Dance, but also a long-awaited opportunity to provide a spotlight for BU basketball to those who have turned a shoulder to it for years.

As much as Saturday’s game means to this Terriers team, it is also undoubtedly a seminal chance for Chambers’ dream of BU becoming the next Gonzaga or Xavier to finally materialize, or at least begin to take form.

“I think it’s great for our university, it’s great for our program, it’s great for these guys that are in there that are working so hard every day,” Chambers said.

If anything, the AE Championship at Agganis Arena provides Chambers and his Terriers with a stage on which to display their finely-tuned product to a crowd that may have never given them a second thought if it weren’t for the stakes of the game.

It is a game that is undoubtedly a break from playing against UMBC at Case Gymnasium on a weekday night in January, for it provides BU basketball – long overshadowed in a professional sports town and at a hockey school – with a chance to build a foundation and attract viewers – and not just the ones watching the game on ESPN2.

For a program that has never averaged more than 2,303 fans in a season since 1978, one defined more by empty seats than by success and eminence, Saturday represents a new day for BU basketball, a chance to truly turn the page to a new era, with Chambers and his vision passionately and ambitiously leading the way.

“For our program, this is great to have a game on campus and hopefully some people can rearrange their plane ticket, their train schedule, their rides home,” Chambers said. “I think it’s going to be awesome and hopefully this sets us up for years to come because we have a bright future.”

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