"Potential," Keith Chambers says, "is just another word that means you haven't done anything yet."
Chambers is the head boys' basketball coach at Stevensville High School, and he's seen plenty of potential turn into results in 21-plus seasons with the Yellowjackets.
On Feb. 9, in fact, Stevensville traveled to Frenchtown and left with a 79-29 victory. On paper it seemed like just another mismatch between the powerful Yellowjackets and an undermanned opponent.
Then you do that math, and you figure out it was the 300th victory of Chambers' coaching career.
It's a number that leaves Class A's most quotable coach abnormally quiet when someone asks: Did you think you'd be in this one Bitterroot Valley spot for this many wins?
"I don't know," says Chambers, who is 302-247 as a coach, 260-203 at Stevi. "I've been really fortunate to have a lot of good kids and a lot of good help. And a good administration, you know, that sticks with you through the tough times.
"I didn't know I'd be here this long, but I consider myself very fortunate."
About this time Chambers stops and yells: "Just have him keep it in front of his face!"
One of his players has been struggling with free throws, and Chambers has seen enough of him cocking the ball by his ear.
"He thinks it's a seashell," he says. "He wants to hear the ocean."
Chambers came to Stevensville from Ekalaka, a small town in the southeastern-most part of Montana. He coached the boys and the girls, and the Bulldogs went a combined 42-44.
He loved it.
"Very nice people," he said. "It was the only town in the state you could drive into and not drive out the other side on a paved road."
Ekalaka was also home to Meadowlark Days, complete with "meadowlark races" and the obligatory Calcutta auction.
"They grabbed a bunch of chickens and spray-painted them yellow," he said. "They ran chicken wire from one bar to the other. We raffled them off, and whoever won the race got the money.
"There were all kinds of things that you weren't used to seeing."
After two years Chambers and his wife - she is from Eureka, and you can't get much farther from Eureka than Ekalaka - moved to Stevensville.
"I think I was probably the fifth choice for the job," he says now. "But as they say, things happen for a reason. I'm glad those four guys had reason not to take it."
And he was glad right away, since Stevensville was loaded for bear in 1991-92. They were a fast-breaking bunch of Yellowjackets that - with Karl Benjamin and Steve Dickerson - probably had the best size in Class A.
"We had a football team that thought they were UNLV," he said. "They thought they could really run. Well, they could run - but the problem is they had to do it with the basketball. That took a while."
The previous coach, Don Ryan, had installed a Loyola Marymount fast break.
"By God, they could run it," Chambers said. "They were good at it."
They also were 8-10 before going 5-2 in the postseason. The surge ended with a 68-56 loss to Butte Central in the state title game.
It is revealing that Chambers and the Jackets didn't have another winning season until 1996-97, when they went 11-10.
"We went from the penthouse to the poophouse," he said. "We went from racing thoroughbreds to Shetland ponies."
That line brings to mind Brad Pluff, Polson's third-year basketball coach. Pluff chuckles: He mentioned some variance of that quote to Chambers in 2004, and then saw it in print a couple weeks later in the Missoulian as the Jackets headed for the State A.
"You can't take a Shetland pony to the Kentucky Derby and expect to win," Chambers said then. Stevensville had missed the last two state tourneys.
The rest of the quotes, though, Pluff can't claim.
"We fell off the camel and couldn't hit sand" is one. "One billion people in China couldn't care less, but we're not Chinese and this hurts," is another.
"Boy, I love him," says Pluff, who played football and basketball alongside Chambers at Polson. "It's seriously nice to have him there. I talk to him all the time. He always has an idea."
The two became buds after Pluff transferred to Polson from Hot Springs in 1983.
"He was a basketball star," said Pluff, who went on to play football at UM-Western while Chambers played basketball for the Bulldogs. "He took me under his wing, and we became friends right away. Even though I thought it was a little weird he had his head shaved."
Chambers was already a character; he already had the nickname "Goose." A lanky 6-foot-6, his coach Karl Tait called him that one day at practice and it stuck.
"He was absolutely great to coach," Tait said this week. "Probably one of the hardest-working kids I've ever had. He was 6-3 as a sophomore, and weighed about 130 pounds soaking wet. But he just went after things and he never let up."
Tait is asked about an anecdote both Chambers and Pluff related from their days at Polson High: That Tait, after watching Chambers mishandle several entry passes, started firing basketballs at his center, point-blank.
"Just started rifling basketballs at him as hard as he could," Pluff said, laughing. "Karl was old-school. But I'll be darned if he didn't start catching basketballs."
That's the way Tait remembers it, too.
"I don't know if I'd do that this day and age," he said. "But you know what - he never missed the ball again."
Chambers' coaching style is certainly less confrontational if no less demonstrative. He counts on coaching veteran Terry Rosin to keep him in line, but it doesn't always work.
"That's his job, see," said Chambers, whose sideline leap punctuated a last-second win at Missoula Sentinel this season. "And sometimes he doesn't do his job very well."
Rosin has taught at Stevensville for 33 years and coached for 28 - "I think he taught Sacajawea the drop-step, he's been here so long," Chambers said - with the Jackets. That includes Chambers' entire tenure.
"He had to hold my hand when I first got here," Chambers said. "Rosin and I, we make a pretty good balance."
Rosin was at Stevensville while Chambers was in high school, so he knew of him before he met him.
"He had a lot of enthusiasm," said Rosin, who is also a UM-Western grad. "And that has not changed.
"I think because of his enthusiasm, the kids realize he's going to work hard for them. And they just kind of follow along."
Stevensville has had seven losing seasons since 1992. The Jackets also made three State A championship games from 1999-2001.
They lost all three. There were missed free throws against Browning in 2001, and foul trouble against Colstrip in 2000, and cold shooting against a very good 1999 Dillon team.
Chambers' camel quote came after the Dillon loss, and the China quote came after his Jackets lost to Browning in overtime.
"I think his humor was such a key to our success," said Jamie Tadvick, a standout guard on the 1999-2000 teams who is now a banker in Stevensville. "Even at tense situations, to keep us relaxed out there, so you're free to make plays. But he was also one to buckle down, and if the job needed to get done he made sure you did it."
Title game losses are tough; Tadvick hasn't forgotten them. Chambers did what he could to soften the blow.
"You want to win all your games, especially the biggest one there is," Tadvick said. "He was very positive. We told each other how good of a time we had. Coach Chambers made us realize how precious the time was - that good, bad or indifferent, it's something we'd always have. It was spot-on."
This year's Yellowjackets are 16-2 heading into a very tough Southwestern A divisional. They've lost to division foes Dillon and Butte Central, and it's Butte Central that Stevi will likely play in Friday's semifinals.
Four Jackets average in double figures, led by senior Josh Schultz at 15.3 points a game. Freshman Jesse Sims is seventh in the Southwestern A in scoring (11.6) and third in rebounding (7.8).
Sophomores Jared Schultz and Zach Gavlak are capable scorers, and the bench is deep with seniors Austin Kelling, Josh Lords and Tyler Gavlak, junior Kadin Beller and sophomore Chris Lords.
"It's been a very pleasurable group to work with," said Chambers. "Willing to work, and willing to accept different roles. Every year you try to build a team, and I think the guys have bought into that. Of course, winning makes it a lot more pleasurable."
That's not to say the lineups haven't changed through cuts or transfers. One guard, junior Brendan Jones, transferred to Missoula Hellgate in search of playing time this year, and found it. Caleb Vance, a starter last year, didn't return.
Chambers played two juniors in 2009-10 but neither was back last season.
"This is the first year in three years that we've had senior night," Chambers joked. "It was getting so bad, Rosin was thinking it was just for him."
Three years ago, when Josh Schultz was among several freshmen getting playing time, Chambers broke out shooting shirts that said, "Hold Your Water."
The shirts, made up new each season, are a big hit.
"I think one time, it was ‘Drop The Chalupa' with the dog on there," said Tadvick.
"He always has something," said Rosin.
There have been hundreds of wins. Scores of big names like John Seyfert, Neal Collins, Clinton Kaufman and Mark Gallik. And plenty of losses, certainly.
"He never dwells on a loss," Rosin said. "He just moves on. I guess we can look back at last year - we lost to Dillon at divisionals by one with 1.1 seconds left and Dillon played for the state title - and think, ‘That could've been us.' But he didn't dwell on it, though I think they didn't like how they felt. They've all put a lot of hard work in since last year."
And so, just before Stevensville's season started, Chambers brought out the new shooting shirts. They read: "Mount Up."