June 20, 2023
Now at Xavier, Billi Chambers is ready to embrace change
Xavier's new head coach poised to transform program into a BIG EAST contender
After spending a decade as the head coach at Iona University (2013-23) in New Rochelle, New York, Billi Chambers made a change she never expected she’d make. The newest head coach of the Xavier women’s basketball program shared with The Next that her move to Cincinnati, Ohio wasn’t necessarily a predictable career move.
“I don’t think that I ever would have thought that I would be moving from the East Coast to the Midwest,” Chambers said. “I’ve been an East Coaster all my life.”
After her first several weeks on the job — Chambers was hired on April 5, 2023 — the two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Coach of the Year is still navigating life in a new city. She’s leaned on locals for the basics like where to find a realtor, best places to eat and recommendations for the best hair and nail salons. While Chambers admits that the move has been busy and overwhelming, she is crystal clear that the opportunity to coach the Musketeers was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“When the opportunity presented itself and I came out to visit on campus and it just felt so similar to Iona — just a little bit bigger like in every regard,” Chambers told The Next. “Bigger square footage, little bit bigger staff, little bit bigger department, bigger athletics, right? Bigger women’s basketball. I think just the challenge of taking on a program to rebuild it was really exciting for me.”
Chambers is taking over the helm of a Xavier women’s basketball program that is poised for change itself. After the 2022-23 season, Xavier parted ways with former head coach Melanie Moore after four seasons. In her short stint as head coach, Moore went 24-81. Last season the Musketeers went winless (0-20) in BIG EAST conference play.
“Basketball is important for Xavier University, and our women’s basketball program has a tradition and history of success,” Xavier vice president for administration and director of athletics Greg Christopher said after Moore was let go. “We expect that our women’s basketball team can be competitive within the BIG EAST and play in the postseason.”
Hiring Chambers is an immediate step in the positive direction for a program on the rebuild. During her time at Iona, she led the Gaels to to the NCAA Tournament twice (2015-16, 2022-23) and captured two MAAC regular season championships (2013-14, 2022-23) and two MAAC Tournament Championships (2015-16, 2022-23) apiece. The NCAA Tournament and conference titles were program firsts. Chambers has the proven success of elevating the status of a program.
Scheming and scouting
Speaking to Chambers for just a few minutes over the phone, it’s obvious that her basketball mind is sharp. As a new coach in the BIG EAST, she understands the elite coaching she’ll face and isn’t backing down from the opportunity to put her own stamp on the Xavier program, starting with the X’s and O’s.
“I love the scheming and the scouting and the X’s and O’s part, and you’ve got some of the best X’s and O’s coaches in this country like — just the way Creighton plays, I love the way Villanova plays — you’re just looking and breaking down some of these offensive sets and some of the defensive ways they go about it. And it’s, I’ll be totally honest — there’s a lot of people that I’ve watched and stolen things from throughout my entire career. I have a little section I call ‘stolen plays’ and if I’m watching a team and I love their clips, I’m moving them over and trying to figure out how we can run it. So that challenge is incredibly exciting to me.
“I think, you know, different leagues kind of have their different stamp. You’ve got the incredible athleticism of the SEC and, not to say that their coaches aren’t great X’s and O’s, but I just think there’s some incredible basketball minds in [the BIG EAST]. And that challenge of having to face them and to step our game up — I think that’s one of the things that super exciting for us. So, you know, like I said, I think we have a system in our Princeton style offense — kind of a hybrid Princeton that really translates well — and I think it’s just about teaching concepts, helping our players understand what they should be doing and putting them in positions to be a little bit more successful offensively. And then we want to get after it defensively. We want to disrupt people. So there’s already a lot of studying right now of what we’re going to have to prepare for and what we’re going to need to focus on.”Xavier head coach Billi Chambers
As for the types of players Chambers wants to see in her program, she knows that it all begins with culture and relationship-building. She’s working hard to get players on the current roster to buy in to the culture she’s building, and she also wants to take advantage of the incredible talent featured in high school girls hoops in the midwest.
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“The young women who were on the roster are working extremely hard to prove that they can compete at a higher clip and be consistent with their production on the floor too…and [the coaching staff is] aggressively hunting after those midwest teams [in] Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan,” Chambers told The Next. “[We’re] just really following those players around and trying to build the relationships because this area has great basketball and we want to keep some of those student athletes home.”
Chambers very clearly has the resume and coaching acumen for her new head coaching role. Still, though, she is well aware that change isn’t easy.
“Obviously, [last season] was a really challenging year for [the team] and I don’t care what anybody says — no matter what you’re going through, change is always hard,” Chambers said. “So even though they did not have success in the BIG EAST last year, the change of a whole new coaching staff can be really, really challenging especially for young people this age.”
Time will tell how quickly a new head coach can alter the trajectory of the Xavier program. The athletics administration sought change when it let go of Moore, and Chambers is poised to start making some major change in Cincinnati.
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