It would not be a stretch to say former hoops standout Kasey Chambers lived and breathed the game of basketball.
Chambers is the daughter of Mary Beth Chambers–the longtime, decorated girls basketball head coach at St. Rose High School. She starred under the tutelage of her mom at the well-known New Jersey basketball school and played a big part in leading the University of Pennsylvania to two consecutive Ivy League titles.
Chambers loved basketball: playing, watching, and everything in between. But something went amiss along the way.
Chambers said she had never experienced any form of anxiety in high school, but that all changed in her freshman season at Monmouth University.
After committing to the Hawks in high school, head coach Stephanie Gaitley left to take the head coaching position at Fordham.
Chambers decided to attend Monmouth and play for the team despite the coaching change, as she was, and still is, an exceptional student.
“I still wanted to go to Monmouth,” Chambers said. “I liked it for more than just basketball.”
But Chambers clearly remembers the exact moment her hardwood performance, due to on-court panic attacks, started to tumble and crumble.
“I remember getting stripped of the ball in a road game against Duke,” Chambers recalled. “I think (all my difficulties) cumulated at that moment. All my confidence started to leave me.”
Things get even worse for the 5-foot-6 point guard from there. Every time she touched the ball, she feared something wrong would happen again. The game she once relished in, became a source of angst and apprehension.
Chambers’ love for basketball started to disappear, with no resolution of her fear in sight.
“This was hard for me because basketball was such a big part of my identity,” she said. “My anxiety crippled me.”
The Red Bank native started seeing a mental health professional in her freshman year at Monmouth and started taking medication. But it was not a cure-all.
In fact, she said it took a measure of trial and error before finding a decent fit.
“It was a game against St. Francis of PA. The meds did not work,” Chambers remembered. “I had a bad reaction to the medication. I felt light-headed. Something was not right. But I did end up finding a medication that did work.”
Chambers was able to get back on the court but was not her old playing self. She said she lacked the swag that made her a formidable player.
Feeling overwrought about the style the Hawks’ coach wanted her to play, plus not being academically challenged, Chambers decided to leave the school and gained entry to UPenn.
But the NCAA requires transfer student-athletes to sit out a season before playing. So, she sat and eased herself into the Quakers’ system at practices.
During her year away from college competition, Chambers said she did not seek professional mental health assistance because there were no games to be played, thus no anxiety. So she trained like a hoops heroine, preparing her body for a return to the sport.
However, her mental health issue did not vanish. As the season grew closer, the same dreadful feelings began to creep back in again.
Chambers was fearful that the team would not understand her situation and lash out because she did not alert anyone sooner.
Her mom said, according to Chambers, “If you’re not going to tell them, I will.”
The younger Chambers did wind up informing the team.
“I felt I couldn’t go through this again,” she said. “I thought it (anxiety) was gone. I was scared that they would be mad at me for not telling them sooner. And I didn’t want to let them down.”
But fortunately for Chambers, the opposite occurred.
“I will never forget the support they gave me,” the 27-year-old said.
To get the help she needed, this time Chambers sought the assistance of a sports psychologist. It so happened that UPenn had brought one on staff, Joe Dowling, which turned out to be a Godsend for Chambers.
From their first session, Chambers started to feel better. She said she had a cathartic experience that moved the needle in the positive direction for the first time.
“I just remember balling my eyes out,” Chambers said, looking back. “I knew, right then, I felt hope, and I never felt that before. I knew something changed in me. I kept getting better mentally on the court.”
Dowling uses a practice he calls ZONEfullness (ZONEfulness: The Ultimate Guide for Student-Athletes), the integration of mindfulness meditation, peak performance zone exercises, and positive psychology that pushes athletes back in their “zone” when on-field anxiety hits.
The sessions helped Chambers become an integral part of the two UPenn Ivy League championship squads and she started all 59 games she played in as a senior, averaging 6.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game.
The assistance Chambers received from Dowling has inspired her to study psychology, with the hopes of working with student-athletes in the future.
Chambers knows how difficult it is to admit something is not right mentally and to seek the much-needed help that one requires to get better.
“I want to help athletes train their minds,” Chambers, a former graduate assistant on George Washington University’s Women’s Basketball team, said with all earnest. “It makes me feel good that I did something important, to help break that stigma. I want to be there for them (athletes), to help them.”
One dribble at a time.
Watch Kasey Chambers make a three-pointer while with UPenn in video below.
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— Jerry Del Priore
Video: Courtesy of Kasey Chambers.
Title Photo of Kasey Chambers shooting three-pointer: Michael Scotto
First story photo: Ivy League; Second story photo: Hunter Martin.