Deb Patterson remembers the weekend well.
Brittany Chambers was in town for an official recruiting visit, but ill. And so was the Kansas State coach because she thought there was no way this dynamic scorer from Jordan, Minn., was going to choose the Wildcats.
Chambers was holding offers from Minnesota and Wisconsin and had already visited Iowa and Iowa State.
“Growing up the University of Minnesota and Wisconsin were my dream schools,” Chambers said. “When they offered me, it would have made common sense to go there, but it didn’t feel right going there when I went on my visit. But one good visit and I would have been there.”
Patterson was sure Chambers would eventually choose to stay in the Big Ten.
“I thought getting her was a long shot,” Patterson said Tuesday. “I remember sitting there during a meal and thinking there’s no way we’re going to get this kid and I love her.
“I never felt we were going to get Brittany until we got that phone call. If Iowa had offered, we probably wouldn’t have gotten her and that’s a scary thought.”
Complicating the decision-making process was that Chambers also was a coveted volleyball player, even more so than basketball. Sure, Chambers was a standout on the basketball court — her school’s all-time leader with 2,828 points — but she was one of the best in the country in volleyball.
Chambers could have gone just about anywhere for volleyball. She was, after all, Minnesota’s second-leading career and single-season kills leader, an All-American, and at one point the National Sophomore Player of the Year.
“She probably, in terms of pure skills, was a better volleyball player out of high school,” Patterson said. “The volleyball thing was a challenge because her mom is an extraordinary volleyball coach and I knew giving that up was going to be a huge decision.”
That’s a conversation Chambers remembers well. The 5-foot-8 guard had just returned home from her visit at K-State and knew what she wanted to do. She had told her father that if K-State offered, she was going to commit.
“I wanted to go home and talk to my mom, who is a volleyball girl,” Chambers said. “I tried to help her come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to play volleyball anymore and then made a family decision.
“My whole family has been so supportive of everything I’ve done, but my mom always loved watching me play volleyball. It was a, ‘but I’ll never get to watch you play volleyball,’ type of thing. That was tough for her because she had coached me for so many years. But she never pushed it on me either.”
The decision is obviously history and now Chambers has a chance to make some K-State history of her own in the coming weeks as she enters the twilight of her illustrious career. That starts Saturday when the Wildcats host Kansas at 2 p.m., televised on Cox 22.
Chambers — a two-time All-Big 12 first-team selection — needs just 44 points to pass Ashley Sweat for third all-time in K-State history. She’s on pace to score 2,000 points in four years, something only two other Wildcats have done — Kendra Wecker (2,333) and Nicole Ohlde (2,241). She ranks second in career 3-pointers with 290 — behind only Laurie Koehn’s 392 treys, which rank first in NCAA history.
And by the end of the season, Chambers will have passed Megan Mahoney, Sweat, Ohlde, Wecker and Shalee Lehning for the top spot in minutes played.
Lehning, Ohlde and Wecker all have their names and numbers hanging in Bramlage Coliseum, a place Chambers never imagined could someday be home to her own No. 2, and yet most likely will eventually.
Chambers, who could be just the third Wildcat to earn All-Big 12 first team three straight seasons, likened herself to Lehning, who wasn’t a pure scorer, but rather a do-it-all type of player with more than 900 rebounds, 800 assists and almost 1,200 points scored.
Though Chambers is more of a prolific scorer than Lehning was, she’s worn many hats here as well. She just became the sixth player in Big 12 history and third Wildcat to reach 1,700 career points, 700 career rebounds and 300 assists.
“I saw that Shalee did it and did in a very unorthodox way, where she wasn’t the leading scorer and wasn’t the flaunty player,” said Chambers, who moved into fourth in scoring when she passed Koehn’s mark of 1,733 career points last week. “She did it her way and was an amazing leader. I looked at her as an example of what I would like to be like eventually, someone who excelled at what she did and didn’t try to be something else.
“You wouldn’t look at me and think I’m like this super scorer who is fast, really athletic with a great handle… I just came in and worked hard to be good at what I do.”
Chambers has done exactly that. If she reaches 2,000 career points, she’d become just the 13th player in Big 12 history to do so, a milestone not even Chambers thought she’d reach.
“I always had high expectations for myself, but you never put yourself in that elite of a group coming in here,” said Chambers, who leads the Wildcats at 19.2 points per game. “You look at the girls that had been here and for me, I was in awe of a lot of them.
“I think that’s a good attitude to come into a program with. A lot of high school girls are like, ‘I’m going to be the best player,’ and think they’ll come in and dominate. I had confidence in myself, but also had respect for who came before me. I knew it would it take time.”
In time, Chambers has become that dominant player, but it hasn’t been easy.
“That is an unbelievable achievement on a team where you don’t have two or three other players who are also dynamic offensive threats and demand the attention of the defense,” Patterson said.
“She is one of the most phenomenal players I’ve had the opportunity to coach. She’s top five in Big 12 scoring on a team where everyone understands she is the one and only scoring threat every trip up the floor. It is an amazing career and a testament to her toughness, intangibles, skill, abilities and competitiveness.”
But Chambers wasn’t always a 3-point shooter either. In high school, much of her game revolved around getting to the basket, with the ball always in her hands. Patterson said she thought Chambers had range, but the coaching staff wasn’t completely sold on her development on as a shooter.
“Kamie never really liked her mechanics and thought she would be very weak because she was unconventional in how she did things,” Patterson said. “But so was Shalee.
“I think a lot of times unconventional players who have good handle skills with good strength and athleticism end up being great shooters. Brittany put the work in.”
Chambers didn’t score in her first game. Her first points came from the free throw line with 12:11 remaining against Arkansas State on Nov. 16, 2009. Her first field goal was a 3-pointer, as she finished with 20 points. Chambers has scored in 116 straight games since.
In addition to her scoring prowess, Chambers has also been the Wildcats’ top rebounder over the course of the last four years. She needs three more rebounds to move into 10th all-time in school history with 727. Chambers also needs five assists to pass Kimberly Dietz for 10th in K-State history with 307 assists.
“Brittany’s evolution, her career, her flexibility and how she’s learned to go from a ball-dominant player who would over-dribble the ball to an assist player, a rebounder, a 3-point shooter and a scorer at the rim, is extraordinary,” Patterson said.
Chambers averaged 12.1 points per game her freshman season, more than 16 points per game as a sophomore, but struggled as a junior at times. The two-time Academic All-Big 12 selection watched her shooting percentage dip from 43 percent from the field to 35 percent and her scoring average fall to 14 points per game. She struggled to get open, rushed shots and took some bad shots, often because she had to.
“After my sophomore year, I set a really high standard for myself going into my junior year,” Chambers said. “I felt huge pressure, weight on my back last year, almost to the point where I think it hurt me more than it helped me.”
Part of Chambers’ growth was learning how to right the wrongs of a year ago and move forward as a senior.
“Coming into this year, I tried to take some of that pressure off myself, like ‘it’s your last year, enjoy it and work as hard as you can,’” she said. “That’s helped me and actually allowed me to be where I wanted to be last year.”
But this season has come with an entirely new set of struggles. The traditional post players like Jalana Childs and Branshea Brown are gone. Due to injuries, the Wildcats (12-8, 3-5) are down to just seven healthy players — four of which are either sophomores or younger or newcomers. It’s been an up and down season for K-State, like the high of defeating No. 12 Oklahoma State last week or the low of losing by 19 at Big 12 bottom dweller Texas just three days later.
“We have seven players, young players and we’re going to have ups and downs all year,” Chambers said. “I understand that. It’s not always going to be like it was against Oklahoma State, but we can strive to play more games like that. I was so proud of that game and I’m glad everyone got to see it and feel what its like to win a game like that. We need to get more of those.”
Patterson said it would be easy for someone to pack it in during a season full of challenges. Not Chambers.
“Three years ago she would have had a pity party everyday about the challenges she was faced with now,” Patterson said. “And now, she’s matured into a great leader, appreciates her teammates and appreciates the opportunity, works hard, keeps her eyes on the prize and she has a great perspective on competing and understands the challenge.
“She could pout, be ‘poor me’ and pack it in, but she’s not wired that way. Great competitors show up — she wants the ball and wants to impact winning and keep her team competitive and please her coaches.”
Chambers has earned Patterson’s respect.
“She can come into a huddle and make a comment, ‘this is going to be effective, they’re playing me like this, maybe this will work,’” Patterson said. “That’s the relationship you always hope to have with a player, where their emotional maturity and analysis of the game can earn your respect. We have that with Brittany and it’s a special thing.”