LMU goes up Creek to grab Chambers

By Jeff Birchfield

   Coming off a disappointing 6-21 season in 2004, Lincoln Memorial University headed up Stoney Creek to nab one of the biggest catches of the basketball recruiting season.
   Rusty Chambers, a senior leader on Unaka's 2004 Class A State Championship team, signed Thursday to become the newest member of the Railsplitter basketball program. Familiarity with the LMU campus and the Railsplitters' 5,000-plus seat arena helped influence the decision for Chambers.
   "I played there (at Tex Turner Arena) my sophomore year and fell in love with it," said Chambers, referring to Unaka playing in a Regional tournament at LMU in 2002. "The gym is huge for a Division 2 school."
   Rival coaches Dennis Cline at Powell Valley High School and Rick Campbell at Hancock County were some who first mentioned to Chambers that the Claiborne County university might be a good fit. Once Chambers met with LMU's head coach Jeff Tungate he was further sold on place.
   "Coach Tungate is a nice guy, an honest guy, what I look to in a coach," said Chambers. "I want to go there and get an education. What I would like to do one day is teach and coach in East Tennessee myself."
   Chambers is a second-generation star athlete from Carter County. His father Tim, a three-sport star at Hampton, played baseball for King College in the 1970's.
   The younger Chambers has a list of accomplishments a mile long. His senior season alone, honors included AP All-State, TSWA All-State, Watauga Valley Conference Player of the Year, TSSAA State Playoffs All-Tournament Team, Elizabethton STAR Player of the Year and setting a new record for free throws in the state tournament hitting 12-of-12 free throws for a perfect 100 percent.
   Over the course of the season, Chambers scored 19 points per game and shot an incredible 89 percent from the foul line.
   Rusty's greatest trait might be his ability to adjust his playing style according to Unaka head basketball coach Donald Ensor. As a junior, he lead all of Upper East Tennessee in scoring at 22.1 points per game. In the Rangers' state title run, senior leader Chambers epitomized the definition of team player.
   "He had to change with the defenses we faced," said Ensor. "He could have forced things but he didn't. It was a great display of blending into a team concept. He may be the best passer I've ever seen in high school basketball.
   "I'm sure that's one thing that caught the attention of the coaches at LMU. You can always find players that score a lot, but his ability to play the way he does, stands out."
   His high school coach sees other qualities in Chambers that should help him adapt to playing at the college level.
   "He was a leader on our team both statistically and emotionally," said Ensor. "He's played every position, very versatile. He will make a nice fit to their program. I'm glad to see him continue his playing career. I know that playing basketball is what he loves."
   Never was the love of basketball more evident than the march to the state championship.
   "I believe it's going to sink in in a couple of years," said Chambers, reflecting on it weeks later. "The first of the year I didn't think we had a shot. It seemed like the three games we played at the state tournament it all came together."
   His favorite game in a Ranger uniform might surprise you. Instead of picking one of the games in the championship run, Chambers looked back to his junior year when Unaka won at University High to end the Junior Bucs' perfect 17-0 season up to that point.
   Chambers is also a star on the baseball diamond, winning Elizabethton STAR Player of the Year last season and is likely to soon be an All-Conference selection in baseball all four of his high school years. As a team, Unaka's baseball squad is close to making the state tournament for a second straight year.
   "When we went to the state last year, it was sort of a shock," said Chambers. "This year we have a good group of guys. Coach (Mike) Ensor, coach (Ryan) Nave, and coach (Jon) Minton all want to win it."
   There are no plans to be a two-sport star once he gets to Harrogate in the fall. In fact, Chambers will start preparing for basketball just as soon as his high school baseball season ends with a conditioning program and playing in a summer league.
   "I want to work on getting bigger, stronger and faster," said Chambers. "The guys down there are huge. That's what I have to work on to get to the next level."
   At the present, the son of Tim and Jeannie Chambers will take part in graduation ceremonies at Unaka High School tonight. He credits much of his success to his family that also includes younger brother Drew an older married sister Jamie Garfield and those in the Stoney Creek community.
   "The community has been great," said Chambers. "Coach Kenneth Chambers has worked with me since the sixth grade when I was at Hunter Elementary. Coaches (Donald and Johnny) Ensors and coach (Richard) Thomas have all been like second dads to me. They helped me learn the game of basketball.
   "Kids from small schools get overlooked sometimes.I hope this encourages those kids to work hard and pursue their dreams."