By Ryan Clark
ORLANDO – Lionel Chalmers looked around the team hotel, smiled and shook his head.
“This is history repeating itself,” Chalmers said, laughing. “Orlando has always been good to us.”
He’s right, but of course, he should know. It was here in Orlando, back in 2004, that Chalmers led an upstart group of Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight by defeating Louisville and Mississippi State in the very same arena this year’s squad plays in Thursday night.
“Xavier has always had good performances here in Orlando,” he said. “Now that I'm not working and I can see us play, I had to be here for this.”
Chalmers’ 2004 squad beat Texas, then took Duke to the wire, losing 66-63 in a game most Xavier fans still think should have resulted in the program’s first Final Four berth.
Still, Chalmers and his group set the record for longest Xavier run in the NCAA Tournament, capping off his Hall of Fame Xavier career (he was inducted two years ago).
And it was partly during that Xavier run when Chalmers decided to make his home in Orlando, where he currently lives with his wife, Juenethia, and their three children.
Tuesday night, Chalmers met the current Xavier squad at their hotel in Orlando and delivered a message to them that centered on cherishing this special time in their lives. They also watched highlights of Chalmers’ team’s 2004 run.
“I just have to quote the late Coach (Skip) Prosser,” Chalmers said, “'Carpe Diem—Seize the Day.' It’s all about containing your excitement, not paying attention to all the media, all your family and friends. Block it out, maintain your focus, and focus on the details. Have a balanced mindset. That’s how you move on to the next round.”
After playing basketball overseas for more than a decade, Chalmers has retired and settled in Orlando, where he watches Xavier whenever the team comes to town (including in the early season tournaments this season and last). He said he sees some similarities between this year’s team and his senior squad.
“Definitely some similarities,” he said. “But they’re not the same. Both started out well. This year had high expectations, whereas we had to replace David West, so people wondered how we would rebound from that. There are similarities, but it’s a different story. And I’m looking forward to seeing them write their own story.”
Many fans remember the 2004 team starting 10-9 before going on “The Run,” winning 16 of their last 18 games.
Freshman guard Quentin Goodin said the presentation was inspirational.
“I think our team needed to hear the message,” he said. “It was good to hear from someone who’d been through adversity like that and overcome it. You really have to focus on the small details and go out and have fun.”
Chalmers now manages an Orlando coffee service company with his father, though he also still talked of becoming a coach.
He will definitely be cheering on the Muskies from the stands Thursday night.
“You’ve got to appreciate the moment because it can go away so fast,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing a Xavier team go to the Final Four someday soon.”