Philippine basketball

Sean Chambers: The ace up Gilas’ sleeves

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Sean Chambers: The ace up Gilas’ sleeves

DEPUTY. Gilas Pilipinas assistant coach Sean Chambers at the sidelines during a tuneup match.

Sean Chambers Facebook page

After finding out he’d be shorthanded in the FIBA Olympic qualifiers, Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone taps a ’perfect guy’ in Sean Chambers, his former Alaska import

MANILA, Philippines – As Gilas Pilipinas warmed up for their tuneup game against the Mustangs of Taiwan on June 24, a face known to the older generation of Filipino hoop fans quietly walked onto the sidelines of the PhilSports Arena. 

He looked around to scan the entire scene. The hallways, every corner, even the cracks on the floors and walls were all too familiar to him, summoning memories of bruising hard court battles, of triumphs and defeats, of friendships made and respect earned. 

It was an atmosphere he basked in many times over in the past, in a place where some of the greatest accomplishments of his playing career happened.

It was in the same venue, then still known as Ultra, where Sean Chambers led the Alaska Milkmen to a 3-1 romp over former LA Lakers backup point guard Wes Matthews and Ginebra San Miguel in the finals of the 1991 Third Conference, earning for the Uytengsu franchise its first ever PBA title. 

It would be the first of six championships that Chambers and coach Tim Cone bagged together as they transformed Alaska into one of the winningest PBA ballclubs of the 1990s. Included in their list of feats was clinching the 1996 PBA Grand Slam when Chambers played in both the Commissioner’s Cup and the Governor’s Cup.

Four years ago, Chambers already told Rappler the he’d likely “retire in the Philippines eventually.”

But talks of retirement will have to wait a little further down the road. A couple of new missions beckon, and as he has done so many times in his storied career, Chambers responded to the calls the only way he knows how – by going all in. 

Not a surprise from the second recipient of the PBA’s Mr. 100% award.

After briefly being part of the TNT Tropang Giga coaching staff tasked with player development in 2023 upon the invitation of his former Alaska teammate Jojo Lastimosa, Chambers returned to the Philippines this year for a lengthier assignment. 

He had been handed the coaching reins of the FEU Tamarraws, who finished seventh out of eight teams in the UAAP the previous season. 

This early, Chambers’ imprint is already evident in the rejuvenated FEU squad which finished third in the recent FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup. 

When Cone found himself two assistants short in his Gilas Pilipinas coaching staff because of the unavailability of LA Tenorio and Josh Reyes, it was an easy decision for the winningest coach in PBA history to recruit Chambers on board to the national team braintrust. 

“Sean steps in, he’s played with me for 13 years, he knows me personally as well as anybody I’ve ever met,” said Cone. “He knows our system, he knows the triangle, so he’s just the perfect guy.”

“And if you have ever been around him… he’s one of the most valuable people around you. We begged him and we begged FEU, and thank goodness he said yes, and FEU said yes.”

It was also an easy decision for Chambers to accept the invitation to join the Gilas Pilipinas squad that was bound for the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers to be held from July 2-7 in Riga, Latvia.

“To represent the Philippines on an international stage has always been a dream of mine,” said Chambers.

Cone could not have picked for the Gilas players a better mentor of the system he wants to implement than the import who has played the longest under his tutelage. 

Not only did Chambers master the triangle offense when he was a player, but he now teaches it to his young boys in FEU where he has instilled parts of the triangle. 

His knowledge of the nuances of Cone’s offensive and defensive schemes, plus his keen understanding of Cone’s thought processes in devising strategies and game plans that need to be executed on the floor make him an invaluable asset on the Gilas bench. 

Cone + Chambers is an equation that for a decade, produced winning results. Gilas fans hope this partnership once again delivers the goods. 

What was unique about Chambers’ game during his playing career was that despite standing at just around 6-foot-2, he did the most damage close to the basket. 

He was effective as he was efficient, outworking taller frontliners and even thriving in conferences that featured big imports. This expertise in the low block will be helpful to the Gilas frontline, which is still rather undersized compared to the long, hefty and athletic European bigs. 

But Chambers’ biggest contribution to Gilas Pilipinas, perhaps, may not even be the technical expertise he shares with the team. 

His mere presence exudes a positive influence that was born out of years of hard work that resulted in a sustained level of excellence. 

It is rare that an import is able to build a career in the PBA that spans more than 10 years. Long before Justin Brownlee became Cone’s reinforcement of choice for Barangay Ginebra, Chambers defined the standard of the quintessential resident import. 

The task ahead for Gilas Pilipinas is obviously laden with difficulties. But it does help that someone with Chambers’ pedigree is on the bench. 

He knows the pressure of the big moments. He is a proven winner. His character and mindset should give the Gilas players a template to emulate. – with a report from Delfin Dioquino/ 

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