PEORIA — Welcome to the promised land.
For the last 18 months, Mark Chambers has been defined as another man in the recent parade of coaches at East St. Louis High School. Now he's carved out a championship legacy no one else in school history has accomplished.
Forget talk of a rebuilding job, Chambers knew East St. Louis basketball needed a philosophical revival and the expectations were high.
On the day he was hired, Jan. 3, 2018, Chambers' new boss proclaimed a question would be determined very early for this talented Flyers program that was in desperate need of structure.
"We're ready to see if Mark Chambers can take us to the promised land," East St. Louis athletics director Leonard Manley said to local media after the announcement.
Chambers' hire represented East St. Louis' sixth coach in a seven-year period. The Flyers (30-6), which have eight senior players on this roster and four senior starters, were just tired of hearing so many different leadership voices.
Just 15 months after Chambers accepted the head basketball coach job, the program's fifth head coach in three years, East St. Louis' dramatic comeback resulting in an overtime Class 3A state championship win over Chicago Bogan is proof the program is finally in the correct hands.
"At first when he came in, we didn't want to buy in and thought this is just another coach," Flyers guard Jashawn Anderson said. "Then, (Flyers leading scorer Terrance Hargrove Jr.) told us he knew what he was talking about and it was time to listen. We worked hard and we accomplished history today."
On March 16, 2019, the East St. Louis basketball program has for the first time found itself called state champions and have found residence in what Chambers' boss called "the promised land."
"I made it about them and not about me," Chambers said. "We ended up in the sectional championship and that (loss) hurt them really, really badly. These players helped me last year change the culture and identity of the program, and I can't thank them enough for that."
Following the victory, nothing is new about the East St. Louis program after Saturday. Nothing except a brand new state title trophy, which has never been the property of East St. Louis basketball in its school history.
"It's something in them now that you just can't coach it," Chambers said. "You listen to them talk, see them work and that's where it comes from. It's about their belief in chasing greatness. I think in their minds they decided to do whatever it takes to be great."
Chambers, an East St. Louis native and a 12-year assistant at Cahokia High School, immediately got his best player, Terrance Hargrove Jr., onboard mentally and emotionally and that was no easy task. The 49-year-old former minor league baseball player was the fifth different head coach in the last three years for Hargrove's class.
"There were low points and we just kept thinking that we need to get a stagnant coach and we decided as a group that we can't use this as an excuse anymore," Hargrove said. "He's a father figure to me and we're not here without him. I know that to be true."
Hargrove, a St. Louis University signee, had 32 points and 10 rebounds in his final high school game that included 13 points in the final quarter and overtime. With the belief of the 6-foot-7 talent, Chambers knew the rest of this veteran group would follow.
"He immediately told us that he thought we could a win a state championship and nobody else did," Hargrove Jr. said. "We put in the work because he believed in us."
Before the ball was tipped Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena, Chambers had accomplished his initial goal of a cultural change for East St. Louis High School basketball. After the tip, East St. Louis left Carver Arena with a win after a 36-minute state championship game which it never led in regulation and held a lead for only 46 seconds.
"We knew that (earlier in the season) if we put them in situations against the top teams in the state, we'll be ready for March," Chambers said. "We went through a lot of adversity already on and off the court. That's why a game like this where you're down seven with three (minutes) to go doesn't faze you. It's just another challenge that these guys have always met."
Matt Stevens is a Journal Star sports reporter. Contact him at 686-3214 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewcstevens.