Basketball coaches occasionally are surprised. A growth spurt here or a bit more maturity there can lead to significant jumps in a young player’s ability to contribute to a high school team.
But that surprise rarely comes from a senior.
Tyler Chamberlain is just such a senior.
“Coming into the year I really did not know what to expect from Tyler,” Central Valley boys coach Rick Sloan admits. “He’d been in the program, sure, but he’d always had injury problems that kept him from being healthy enough to play much.”
Nothing major, mind you. Just nagging injuries, the type that occasionally follow a growth spurt like the one Chamberlain went through following his freshman year. A broken foot one year, ankle problems the next – enough to prevent him from getting himself into basketball shape and show his coaches what he was capable of doing.
“I saw a picture of myself as a freshman and I didn’t recognize myself,” the 6-foot-3 Chamberlain laughed. “When I was a freshman I was, maybe, 5-10 and I was a point guard. That summer I grew several inches and started to fill out.”
This past summer Chamberlain found himself healthy for the first time as a high school player.
“I started to feel better right at the end of our summer league season and I decided that I need to get myself into the gym, start working out and get ready to play,” he said. “My goal was to get to a point where I was a starter by the end of the season.”
What followed was another growth spurt, this time as a player. By the time the Bears opened their Greater Spokane League season, he was not just in Sloan’s starting lineup, but a key contributor.
“Tyler answered some real questions I had about this team going into the season,” the coach explained. “To begin with, we weren’t sure who was going to score for us. Especially early in the season, Tyler was that guy.
“Coming in, I think he was, maybe, our seventh or eighth guy. By the time we started playing games, he’d earned the chance to start and once I put him in there, he became a key contributor for us. He’s our leading rebounder and one of our leading scorers. And he’s one of our better defenders.”
What was the biggest surprise, the coach said, was Chamberlain’s ability to score.
“We knew he was a pretty good defender and we always knew he was a pretty strong kid who could rebound,” Sloan said. “What we didn’t know was that he had the ability to score the way he has. He goes out there, night in and night out, and gives you eight, 10, 12 points. You can count on him.”
And there are nights when he can do more than that. Against Richland in a nonleague game, Chamberlain scored 20 points. Six times this season, he’s scored in double figures.
Becoming a starter was a major boost to his confidence, Chamberlain said. And as the season progressed, his role became more and more defined.
“I like to concentrate on being there to help my teammates by rebounding and playing good defense,” he said. “I like to draw the other team’s best player and defend him. With a lot of teams, that means denying them the ball and to do that I have to rely on my teammates.
“To play that kind of defense, they have to know that I’m not going to be there in our help defense.”
The Bears entered Friday night’s game at Central Valley against Ferris solidly in fourth place in the GSL, making each of the team’s remaining six games important as the season winds toward the playoffs.
“We have a habit of playing close games and a lot of our games have come down to the last shot,” Chamberlain said. “I think my best basketball is still ahead of me and I think the same thing about this team.
“We’re working hard to make ourselves better.”
Ahead of Chamberlain, too, is his first Stinky Sneaker game at the Spokane Arena – a thrill for any basketball player in the Central Valley School District, be they from CV or from University.
“You can’t look ahead too much at that game,” he explained. “But I really am looking forward to playing in that game because I’ve never been part of it before.
“We like to take one practice a week and turn the music up really loud so we can get used to playing in that kind of an environment.”
Sloan gets a smile on his face as he talks about Chamberlain’s season.
“It’s really nice to see a kid like Tyler have this kind of a season,” Sloan said. “He’s a good kid and it makes you feel good to see him have this kind of success and prove that he’s a basketball player.”
For his part, Chamberlain insists he’s not taking the year for granted.
“No,” he said. “I’m loving every minute of every game. I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.”