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Coach Chambers at Home in Naples

Ever since their men’s basketball season ended, FGCU Coach Pat Chambers has been all over the Naples area, meeting with prospective donors at the Hilton, along Fifth Avenue and Bonita Bay. He's had coffee-and-breakfast meetings, lunch-and-learns, presented dinner keynotes.

“I have to keep my fitness program up because all these events are over food,” he joked. “We’ve had boots on the ground and we’ve been grateful, because donors have given back to the program, like getting us a charter to Atlanta for the Kennesaw State trip in the ASUN Tournament.” That trip finished with a 61-55 loss to Queen’s College, which ended a rollercoaster season for the Eagles.

They began by going to Los Angeles and beating USC, which made the NCAA Tournament. “That’s something I’ll never forget,” Chambers said. “It was magical for our players.”

In the Gulf Coast Showcase, the Eagles won all three games, including the opener against Northern Kentucky, another NCAA Tournament team.

After a road win against St. Bonaventure and two ASUN wins to start the conference season, FGCU (12-3) had its best start in school history. The Eagles also rated highly in the strength of schedule. But as well as things went in November and December, they went south in January, February, and March. Close losses. Injuries. "Going from the hunter to the hunted," Chambers says.

“It was a tale of two seasons,” Chambers explains. “I felt we were 'snake bit.' Nonetheless, I was still proud of how we competed. We easily could’ve mailed it in, but we competed to the bitter end. The guys got better and now we have shared experiences.” Those experiences, the credibility Chambers built, and his willingness to tell players they were welcome to stay after he took the job have led to just one player entering the transfer portal. In today’s college basketball, that’s rare. Chambers says there are 1,000 players in the transfer portal. Teams like North Carolina and Kentucky are having starters transfer, while other top programs are seeing numerous players leave.

Chambers credits player retention to the parents. “They come from good families and are good kids, really good kids,” he says. “We also had an improved GPA and our staff did a helluva job. Two words I use are trust and loyalty. I can say with confidence that I have faith in what we’re doing. That’s huge for any culture.”

Chambers says that he’ll be selective when bringing in transfers. Two recruits FGCU will bring in are freshman guard Rahmir Barno and junior guard Xavier Pina. Fans of City of Palms, one of the top high school tournaments in the country played in Fort Myers, may recognize Barno for being named MVP after leading Imhotep, PA to the championship. Pina, Chambers says, “is a lights-out shooter.”

The non-conference schedule will include a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam in November. Fordham and Missouri State are among the teams entered. Also, there will be home games with Florida Atlantic, which reached this year’s Final Four, and St. Bonaventure. The conference schedule also will change with the defections of Liberty and Jacksonville State, while Kennesaw State, the ASUN champion, will have a new coach.

During all games, Chambers wore tennis shoes in honor of his sister Donna, who died of cancer. He also supports dementia research, which affected his father before he died. Chambers is the youngest of 12 children.

He also is involved in Habitat for Humanity and will take a deeper look at helping support a rebuild of Naples Pier, which needs a $6 million to $8 million facelift. “After church, we’d go walk on the pier,” he says. “It was a slice of heaven."

“We do love this community. My wife Courtney and I have made some really good friends. “We’re grateful.”