Year two of the Pat Chambers era of Penn State basketball is almost upon us as the Nittany Lions will hold their first official practice of the season on Friday. As was expected, Penn State struggled last season, posting a 12-20 overall record and winning just four games in the Big Ten.
Some would consider last season a failure, but Chambers laid a foundation for the program to build on. He and his staff instituted his ferocious style of play while getting out on the recruiting trail and thrusting the Penn State name back in recruiting circles where the program had usually been an afterthought.
There is an aura of excitement surrounding the program. When Chambers speaks, people listen. His passion is infectious and he has proven to be a great ambassador for Penn State. He won’t be outworked—whether it is recruiting or coaching his players. While it’d be far-fetched to have NCAA tournament aspirations for this year’s squad, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the upcoming season.
5. The Foundation is Set
Pat Chambers was brought into Penn State last June after Ed DeChellis fled Happy Valley to coach the Naval Academy. It is always tough when a new coach comes in. He must institute a new system and get acclimated to an entire new roster of players. He must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each member of his roster.
Conversely, it takes time for the players to adapt to a new coaching staff, style of play, and the everyday routine of a newly run program. In preseason interviews with GoPSUSports, both forward Jon Graham and guard Jermaine Marshall attested to this, saying that the team is much more comfortable in year two under Chambers.
There’s no doubt that there were growing pains last season, but the Lions seemed to hit a bit of a stride toward the end of Big Ten play– especially at home. They beat Nebraska and Iowa in back-to-back home games and also put up great efforts against Northwestern and Michigan, losing by a total of 7 points between those two contests.
This team is going to play hard. They showed that last year, especially on defense. Players were diving all over the court, giving all-out effort and attitude for 40 minutes each game. And really, that’s all you can ask for.
4. Chambers’ First Recruiting Class
Pat Chambers and his staff have been relentless recruiters. While he missed out on some of his top targets, his first Penn State class– the class of 2012– should have an immediate impact. The jewel of this class is 6-foot-7 New Jersey forward Brandon Taylor. Taylor is an extremely versatile player who showcases three-point range in addition to a polished mid-range and inside game.
According to his player page, Taylor arrived on campus weighing over 260 pounds but immediately bought into strength coach Brad Pantall’s program. He is now listed at 235 pounds and has been described as having a “Big-Ten ready” body. Look for Taylor to make his way into the rotation and earn steady playing time.
In addition to Taylor, Chambers brought in Boston guard Akosa Maduegbunam. Maduegbunam brings a much-needed outside threat to Happy Valley. At 6-foot-3, Maduegbunam provides additional size at the guard position and has been described as the fastest player on the roster.
Chambers rounded out his first class with 6-foot-9 lefthanded forward Donovon Jack. Jack, a native of Reading, is extremely skilled around the basket and has deceptive athleticism. He will probably need to add some bulk to his 205-pound frame before he earns some significant playing time.
3. Development of Jon Graham, Ross Travis, and Jermaine Marshall
Coming into last year’s season, Penn State only had 4 players with previous significant playing time. This meant several inexperienced players were forced to play more minutes than they were used to in arguably the nation’s toughest conference. These growing pains are now in the past and under the belt of several players who will be key contributors for Penn State this year.
Most notably, after an early-season bout with mono, redshirt freshman Jon Graham was inserted into the starting lineup– a place he remained for much of the season. Graham looked clumsy as he adjusted to the college game in addition to playing with an added 20 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-8 frame. He improved gradually as the season progressed and was named the team’s most improved player. Chambers has spoken highly of Graham’s development, noting that he is lighter on his feet and has really increased his vertical leap.
Ross Travis was a true freshman last year and showed incredible athleticism around the rim and on defense. He needs to add a threat of a consistent mid-range jumper, something he has been seeking to improve.
Additionally, guard Jermaine Marshall showed that he can be a legitimate scoring threat for the Nittany Lions as he averaged 10.8 points per game last season. He logged four 20-point scoring efforts including an awesome 27-point effort in the regular season finale against Michigan. Perhaps that performance will be a sign of things to come as Marshall works to be a consistent contributor.
2. DJ Newbill
Pat Chambers has been hyping up guard DJ Newbill since the Philadelphia native transferred to Penn State prior to last season. Newbill spent his freshman year at Southern Miss after originally being committed to Marquette. He started every game for The Golden Eagles, averaging 9.2 ppg and 6.2 ppg. Due to the NCAA transfer rules, he was forced to sit out last season.
Newbill is a true all-around guard. He can handle the ball, plays stellar defense, and can score from anywhere on the floor. Newbill, along with the improving Marshall, will open up the floor for Penn State’s best player, and the number one reason to be excited for Penn State basketball this season…
1. Tim Frazier
Tim Frazier is an incredible talent. He led Penn State in nearly every statistical category as a junior, and will now return for his final go-around in a Nittany Lion uniform. For his efforts, Frazier was named first team All-Big Ten.
Frazier had to do everything for the team last year as he was thrust into a leadership role after being a complimentary player his first two years on campus. He’ll still run the show this year, but he’ll have help around him. The threat of Newbill and Marshall will open things up for Frazier. He showed incredible quickness getting into the lane. With the threat of Newbill, Marshall, and even the freshman Maduegbunam from the outside, the lane should be more available for Frazier to roam.
With Frazier’s jump shot also steadily improving, it will certainly be a treat to see Tim Frazier put on the Penn State uniform for his final season.