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Connecting for a Cause

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers arrived on campus in early June 2011, one of the first Nittany Lions he sought out to meet was Talor Battle.

Battle and Chambers met for the first time nearly seven years ago, shortly after one of the most prolific Nittany Lions in program history closed out his collegiate career.

"To have a great relationship with your all-time leading scorer and one of your best players to ever come out of Penn State is really important," Chambers said on a sunny Friday afternoon in between rounds of golf at the annual Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament. "It was important for me when I took the job."

In the span of time, the relationship between Chambers and the Nittany Lion who helped Penn State to its first NIT title in 2009 and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011, has only grown, even strengthening in the past two years. 

After playing professionally overseas in a handful of different countries, Battle announced his retirement in late February leaving his current team, Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. 

"It was really just a lot injuries," Battle said. "The past two years I have kind of been banged up, from shoulder surgery to tearing my calf muscle."

Not one of the injuries along the way stopped Battle from following along with the program, one he described as high-octane and exciting to watch under Chambers' direction, adding with a smile that he "wouldn't mind playing run-and-gun in that offense."

Battle even recalled saying he saw NBA potential in a then-freshman Tony Carr upon watching the future All-Big Ten Nittany Lion.

"I still believe that," Battle said. "I think with these workouts, with his size, the things he can do with playing in the post, he has an NBA body so I hope someone really takes a chance on him."

Since announcing his retirement though, Battle has been in constant contact with Chambers, talking everything and anything, even related to what's next for the retired pro.

"It's mostly been about coaching because I'm kind of looking to get into that," Battle said. "He has just been giving me the pros and the cons, shooting me straight and that's really all I can ask for." 

Since their first meeting back in 2011, staying in touch is something Chambers knew he wanted to continue, even well beyond his budding relationship with Battle. 

"We want to make sure that we reach out to these guys and they know our door is always open for you," Chambers said. "Wherever you are in your career, if you're still playing, not playing, searching for a job, going into the real world, know that we're going to be there for you." 

For Chambers, having Battle back with the program in some capacity is certainly a possibility, especially when it comes to the challenge of connecting an alumni base that didn't play for the current head coach with the more current graduates.

In his first time able to attend the annual summer event, it's a special experience for Battle to return those relationships and build some new ones in the process.

"Seeing some of the guys I played with and some of the guys before me all coming back for something so big is great," Battle said.

When Chambers brought on former Nittany Lion Jarrett Stephens in late December 2017, he added alumni relations to the list of responsibilities for Penn State's first consensus first team All-Big Ten selection.

"The biggest thing is you really want them to come back," Chambers said. "I didn't coach them so that's the hardest thing, because sometimes you don't feel like you have a connection and we wanted to really dive in and say, 'no, you do.' It's Penn State. You chose here because of Penn State, the University, the academics, the networking, the alumni association and your memories that you had here."

More than the significance of decades of Penn State hoops alumni gathered to reconnect with each other and the community though, is the cause behind the yearlong event, one that's especially close to the team.

Upon receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis a few years ago, Chambers presented longtime Penn State equipment manager Mitch Stover with a blue elastic wristband with the word "Attitude" on it.

"This bracelet right here," Stover said raising his arm in the air. "It's from coach Chambers and that was what I accepted and took on, attitude. My wife dealt with all the other issues and I was told just to concentrate on healing and getting well."

Three years ago, instead of participating in the golf tournament with the rest of the staff and former Nittany Lions he'd worked with along the way, Stover was in the hospital.

"It's because of the Bestwick Foundation and CVC that I'm able to be back here and be part of this event," Stover said. "It's really a privilege and I'm honored." 

After conquering bladder cancer, Stover retired March 31, 2018 after nearly 30 years with the team.

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