Sean Chambers Looks To Guide The FEU Tamaraws Back To Prominence

Sean Chambers was part of one of the most storied PBA franchises. Now he wants to revive one of the most storied UAAP programs.

As a player 30 or so years ago, Sean Chambers was part of one of the most dominant dynastic runs in Philippine Basketball Association history – the 1990s Alaska Milkmen juggernaut that won a grand slam in 1996, captured nine titles and made the finals in 12 of 13 conferences from late 1994 to mid-1998. Chambers himself is a six-time PBA champion and one-time Best Import awardee.

Today, as a coach in 2024, he is taking on a new challenge with another notable Philippine basketball program. Chambers was recently named head coach of the FEU Tamaraws men’s basketball team, the winningest program in the UAAP with 20 championships and a history of producing some of the greatest Filipino basketball players.

Dream job

How Chambers landed the job has destiny written all over it. He was in town late last year on the invitation of his former Alaska teammate Jojo Lastimosa, who was then interim coach of the TNT Tropang Giga. Jolas brought in Chambers as a short-time consultant, and while he was here, as he often does, he made it a point to watch some college hoops action.

“I think it was fate,” Chambers told The Game. “I was here visiting during Thanksgiving break in November. And (FEU team manager) Mr. Anton Montinola saw me at one of the UAAP games.

“We had a meeting, had a conversation, and we originally talked about a position of being like a player development consulting type of a coach for them and helping them develop their foreign players, to make them elite-level guys and work all the way through with the high school kids and the juniors.

“It was something that interested me because of my grassroots background back in the States. About a few months later, the conversation turned into, ‘Would you be interested in a coaching job?’”

The Tamaraws were coming off one of their worst seasons ever, finishing seventh with a 3-11 record. The school knew they had to shake things up, so they made the decision to move Denok Miranda from head coach to program director and replace him with Chambers.

The timing of the offer couldn’t have been better. Chambers has been an educator in Sacramento for almost 20 years, and before that he ran one of the most successful girls’ basketball programs in California. But now that his youngest son is finally heading off to college, he felt the time was right to finally pursue his dream of coaching in the Philippines.

“It just kind of all fell into place,” he said. “As they say, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ Everything that I’ve always done in the Philippines has always been somewhat of a dream come true, and here’s another one falling into place while I’m here in the Philippines.”

“It’s a big position that I’ve left behind in the States, but I’ve been able to take a leave of absence for up to two years. So it give me a bit of a gap if it doesn’t work out. But I have nothing but high expectations for myself and for the team.”

The Alaska culture

Not surprisngly, Chambers has been able to count on the support of his former teammates, coach and even the team owner. That’s just the way they were at Alaska.

“I talked to Tim (Cone) and Mr. (Fred) Uytengsu before I left the country,” he said. “They’re all excited for me. I have the full support of the entire Alaska family. All my teammates are excited for me and willing to support me. Jojo Lastimosa has been here three days already at my complex. We went out dinner twice. The support is tremendous. I’m blown away, really. I’m not surprised, though. That’s how we were as teammates.”

Chambers is also thankful for the personal support he has received from another former teammate who just happens to be arguably the greatest Tamaraw ever.

“Johnny (Abarrientos) has been here every day,” he revealed. “He’s been excited. He’s been my right-hand man translating for me when I need help explaining more things in Tagalog. I’m trying to get more fluent with my Tagalog, but until then, Johnny’s been helping me tremendously.”

Sean Chambers meets his new team. (Photo by Mark Molina)
Settling in

This is, of course, a new breed of Tamaraws, none of whom were born yet when Chambers played his final PBA game for Alaska in 2001. These kids never saw their new head coach play during his prime, but they won’t be lacking in stories about how awesome he was back in the day.

“I don’t think the players know me, but their parents absolutely do,” Chambers said with a laugh. “A lot of the parents were just ecstatic to see me and meet me in practice recently. The parents absolutely know who I am, but the players do not. They’re hearing all the stories, though.”

Chambers only arrived in late March, so he’s still fighting off jet lag and getting used to his new gig. But he’s filled with confidence for what lies ahead.

“So far, it’s been a wonderful experience, The guys are awesome. They’re working hard in practice, so I hope to be the lead of the FEU Tamaraws for the next, maybe, five to ten years.

“The guys play hard, they’re very athletic, it’s a super fast-paced game. But I’m still learning the ropes of what’s successful and what’s not successful in the UAAP. I’ve watched a lot of games, but it’s not the same as watching on video and actually being present.”

He also knows what he’s up against, with other programs armed to the teeth with bigger budgets. But then again, the Alaska team of the 1990s was in a similar situation.

“I don’t walk into any aspect in my life to not be successful. My goal is to be successful. I understand there are some elements out there with the bigger teams with bigger budgets. But I also feel there’s a will to win and we can also outperform anybody that has a bigger budget than us.

“I’m not naïve about the league and who are the big dogs in the league, but I believe just like our old days in Alaska, we found a way to win. We didn’t have the best talent on our team, but then when we got the best talent, it was domination. We found ways to win with what we had at that time in the PBA. We can do the same thing here.

“I would expect nothing less than us giving 100%, representing the university and having everybody on that team bleeding green and gold with their heart. We’re gonna really represent this university the way it’s supposed to be.”

(Banner image from UAAP Media Bureau)

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