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Interview with Lionel Chalmers

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I know for many Xavier fans this has been, and will be, a particularly long off season so I had the idea to keep things interesting by getting in touch and interviewing some former players.  For me the natural place to start was with Lionel Chalmers, as he and his team really ignited what has been a lifelong Xavier fandom for me with their run to the Elite 8.  I think I speak for most Xavier fans when I say watching that run was one of the most exciting and fondest memories we’ve had as fans.  For those who didn’t have the privilege of watching that run as it happened, you can rewatch the Texas game here:

A little background on Lionel.  He was a 4 year player, and 4 year contributor, at Xavier continuously improving throughout his career.  He was part of two teams that helped lay the foundation for what Xavier basketball has become. In 2002-2003 his team had arguably the most successful regular season in Xavier history to that point, going 24-4 and earning a 3 seed. In 2003-2004 he took Xavier to its first Elite 8, earning All-NCAA regional tournament honors along the way.  He was drafted 33rd overall in the NBA draft and played one season for the Clippers before spending 10 years in Europe.  This past season he was inducted into the Xavier athletic Hall of Fame, cementing his place in Xavier history.

Fun Fact: For my money, Lionel also had the best shoes in Xavier history, sporting navy blue and white Jordan XIIs.  For whatever reason, those Jordans will always be tied to my memories of #0.

Before we get started, I want to give a HUGE shout out to Lionel for the interview.  I was impressed by his willingness to even answer some questions, but I really and truly appreciate the amount of time and thought he put into them.  I can’t thank him enough for his time and energy. You can follow him on twitter @lionelchalmers

Without further ado, lets get started.

So let’s start with your recruitment out of high school.  What was the recruiting process like for you? You grew up and played High School basketball in New York, so what was it about Xavier that interested you?  What were the deciding factors that led you to ultimately committing to Xavier?

The recruiting process for me was exciting and stressful at the same time starting from my Freshman year in high school, since I was recruited by several big programs.  Coach Prosser started recruiting me my Freshman year and he was very consistent about keeping up on my academic progress as well as basketball.  Overall Xavier has a great education system, they have a great basketball program, and they have been consistently at the top of their conference every year which is very attractive when you love to win.  The deciding factors of my choice was the great person and coach that Skip Prosser was, and the great academic school that Xavier is, that combination was perfect for me.

Your first 2 years you played under Skip Prosser, who is obviously one of the most beloved and respected coaches in Xavier’s history.  What do you remember most about Skip?  Any particular memories or stories that stand out from your time with him as a coach?

What I remember most about coach Prosser was his personality and his genuine care for his players as people and as students.  After he left Xavier, 2 years later, the summer of my senior year, coach called me and told me "this is your last year, it is your time to do it now, you have to put it all together now."  Meanwhile he’s been at Wake Forest for 2 years, just so you understand he has 15 other guys he is responsible for and he still takes time out to see how I am doing.  That was extraordinary to me.  That sits very close to my heart to this day.  Skip Prosser was a great coach but an even better man.

After 2 years under Skip he left to go to Wake Forest.  What was the feeling amongst the players when this happened?   What were your initial thoughts upon learning that we had hired Thad Matta?

When Coach Prosser left to go to Wake Forest we all wanted to leave.  We thought about leaving right away, that’s how much we respected him as a coach.  We felt that we had a great coach and we wanted him to be our coach wherever that was.  After a while it settled down and we realized that its part of the game of basketball.  At first it was a little awkward when we met the new coach, because he didn’t recruit us.  That quickly went away and he began to make us feel like his players.  Coach Matta had the personality, energy, spirit, and enthusiasm that we wanted in a coach.  It became a great match.

In 2002-2003 you played on a loaded team alongside David West, Romain Sato, and Anthony Myles that had the most successful regular season of any Xavier team to that point.  As a player, was the feeling and pressure of playing on such a highly respected and touted team different than your first 2 years?  What did you enjoy most about that year?

The year 2002-2003 was the year we could have been an elite 8 or final 4 team.  As the point guard, I knew we were going to be special; you can just feel the connection, hunger, and the will which I enjoyed the most.  As a point guard playing with players just as hungry as you are to win is thrilling.  There was no pressure, we had a lot of fun and we accomplished great things.  I still think about the possibilities of that year if I didn’t break my foot against Creighton.  I never fully recovered going into the NCAA tournament and I felt like I let my team down that year.

Unfortunately, that year ended in a bit of disappointment, getting upset in the second round.  This is a situation that the players and fans find themselves in currently.  Do you think that loss changed the offseason approach and mind sight moving forward?  Did that disappointment help or contribute in any way to the run you made the following year?

For me, the disappointing loss was a spring board to my senior year where I was determined to get back to that position and succeed, and we did that.  We went to the Elite 8 and conquered the disappointment from the previous year.  I think the same thing will happen for the guys this year.  There was definitely some disappointment in losing in the tourney when you have great expectations.  I think the loss will spring board them to understanding what to do differently and how to not let that happen again.  You work harder and you become more determined after a disappointment.

Your senior season was filled with ups and downs right up until you beat UC and really got on a roll.  Was there something that clicked before or during that game that allowed you to be so successful from that point on?  What changed from February on that made that team so good?

For my senior year, we were supposed to be an ok team.  I think we were doubted by everyone, which led to our slow start, we were still trying to figure out our identity.  It took some time.  We continued to work on establishing our identity.  Once we established our identity that’s when everything clicked.  The UC game was a game that showed who we were becoming.  We understood our talent and we knew we could beat anyone and we started to click on all cylinders as a team.  We had the experience, we had the will, we had the hunger, and once the coaching staff put the identity on us we grasped it.  The blossoming of our team began; we were on route to making history.

You were part of perhaps the most exciting run in Xavier history that began in the A-10 conference tournament by destroying the #1 ranked St. Joes team, continued by beating Louisville and top 15 ranked Miss St and Texas in the NCAA tournament, and ended finally with a loss in the Elite 8 to Duke.  What was the mindset of the team heading into the NCAA tournament?   What was it like playing on a national stage, particularly in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8?  What do you remember most about that run and what was your favorite memory or part of it?

The mindset of our team that year was to win two games and move on.  We played in sections of 2 game series.  The first section was in Orlando (These were the games against Louisville and Miss St).  We understood who we were, we respected who we were playing, we focused on the scouting reports, and we took it upon ourselves as a team to be prepared in all aspects of the game.  We were all about business and nothing was going to stop that.  We understood that the game was 40 minutes and we played in 20 minute segments.  It was a lot of fun, but for me personally I was so focused that I didn’t enjoy the hype and excitement of The RUN as much as I would’ve liked.  My favorite memory was when we beat Mississippi State, because we lost to them earlier in the year.  They had an advantage over our team mentally.  My focus that game was to be more aggressive and lead the way, to relay a message to my team that we are going to beat these boys tonight.  That led to one of the best NCAA tournament performances of that year and one of the best in Xavier history.

Side note:  Lionel went 11/13 from the field (7/9 from 2, 4/4 from 3) to score 31 against Mississippi State.  An absolutely incredible performance that contributed towards him being named to the All-NCAA Atlanta Regional team for the tournament.

You’ve spent the last 11 years playing over in Europe.  How have you enjoyed your time overseas, and what’s your favorite memory of those past 11 years?  Is there anything in particular you are still looking to accomplish in your career?

I have been in Europe the past 10 years.  I have enjoyed my time.  I played in Italy, Spain, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, and France.  I have learned a little of each country’s language as well as culture.  It has been an amazing journey.

Do you have any plans in mind for your time after basketball?

I am looking forward to what is next.  I have a couple business ventures I’m working on now.  My main focus is on becoming a coach and giving back to the younger generation of athletes and help them become not only better players but better human beings.  I think it’s important to give back the knowledge you learn from the experiences you have had in life.

This past season you were honored by being inducted into the Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame.  What did that award mean to you?

Being inducted into the hall of fame this past year was amazing, something I dreamt about when I was in High School. These kinds of accomplishments are legendary and I respect it to the fullest and I appreciate the people and fans of Xavier.  It is an honor to be among the greatest and elite at Xavier University.  It means the world to me to be put in that category.

Finally a few rapid-fire questions.

Who is the single toughest opponent you played against in your college career?

The single toughest opponent I played against is hard to say, there were so many great players, If I had to pick one it would be Jameer Nelson.  Jameer was quick and he could shoot the ball very well from distance.

What’s the loudest game you played in at the Cintas?

Favorite shootout memory/moment?

The loudest game and my favorite memory was my senior year vs Cincinnati, when I hit the shot to put us ahead and win the game.  It was like a movie!  Everything was in slow motion as the ball left my hand.  The noise level was amazing.  We have the best fans in the country.

Side Note: I have yet to find a video of this highlight.  If anyone has it please send it my way.

Your favorite Xavier player to watch since you’ve graduated?

I have no favorite player but Edmond Sumner reminds me of myself when I was younger, he’s taller than I am but I like the fact that he is fast, he’s very athletic, and he has a big heart.

What’s your opinion of the direction Xavier’s heading in under Chris Mack?

I believe that under Chris Mack Xavier will break into the Final 4.  Chris has everything it takes to get there.  He is a determined coach who is the best at getting the most out of his players.

Your single favorite moment/game as a Musketeer?  Scoring 31 against Mississippi State and hitting the game winning shot against UC your senior year stand out as mine.

My favorite moment at Xavier was getting to the Elite 8 for the first time in School history.  That is an honor that will live forever, and I cherish that mark.  Our team was special, when we beat Texas in the sweet 16 that was the moment we made history. 

Once again thanks so much for doing this, it really means a lot, and congratulations on your induction into the Xavier Hall of Fame.  I think I speak for all the fans when I say how much I enjoyed watching you during your career at Xavier.  You did so much to help build the Xavier program and help get it to where it is today.  Truly one of the best to ever put on the Xavier uniform!

Thank you!  to all Xavier fans of the past and present. I love you and take care.  GO XU!