Things have not been easy for Pat Chambers since he took over as head coach of the Penn State men’s basketball program.
In the 2011-12 season — Chambers’ first season at the helm in Happy Valley after coming over from Boston University — Penn State struggled to a 12-20 record, winning just four games during Big Ten Conference play. This season has been even worse. The Lions have trudged through their first eight Big Ten games without registering a win and boast just an 8-12 overall record with no light at the end of the tunnel, at least this season.
The program has been given the dreaded “rebuilding” title since Chambers took over in June 2011 after the abrupt departure of Ed DeChellis to Navy — and rightly so. Chambers has been coaching a roster full of average-at-best (with the exception of Tim Frazier) DeChellis recruits and walk-ons. But at one time, there was potential for these teams. Where did things change?
The 2009-2010 campaign was the killer. The Nittany Lions were coming off an NIT championship, but promptly followed with a horrendous 11-20 season that included a 3-15 Big Ten record. After the season, two of the team’s more promising underclassmen — Chris Babb and Bill Edwards — both transferred. Babb had been a starter who averaged 9.2 points per game as a sophomore, while Edwards showed flashes as a true freshman, averaging 4.2 points per game in 16 minutes per contest. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that a guard from Ohio named Trey Burke decided to decommit from Penn State. His career has panned out pretty well, you might say.
Looking back, the success that followed in the 2010-11 season was very unlikely. That squad featured four seniors in the starting lineup who provided a large majority of the team’s scoring — Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones, and David Jackson — and featured a very thin bench that only went two or three players deep. Despite the lack of depth, the team clawed their way through the Big Ten Tournament and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
That fairy tale run ended on a last second shot by Temple’s Juan Fernandez in the Tournament’s first round. When looking ahead to the immediate future, all of a sudden the Penn State roster looked barren. Additionally, Taran Buie, the highly recruited half-brother of Talor Battle, was more or less kicked off the team in April before DeChellis left in late May. Then, to top it all off, highly regarded transfer Juwan Staten decided to switch his commitment to West Virginia upon DeChellis’ departure.
The 2011-12 roster that Chambers then inherited was extremely undermanned to compete in a major conference like the Big Ten.
The timing of DeChellis’ departure left Chambers no time to recruit for the upcoming season, thusly he inherited a roster comprised entirely of DeChellis recruits — including five then incoming freshmen — which included some hits, but mostly misses.
Frazier was Chambers’ only returning starter, and just a few other players who had ever garnered any significant playing experience made up his roster for his first season in the Big Ten. The team struggled, but it’s fun to think about what that team could have looked like had some of those guys stuck around. Frazier teaming up with Babb, Staten, and Burke would have been a hell of a team to watch.
Of course it panned out differently, but despite the depleted roster, Chambers instilled a new life and energy into the program.
Chambers’ rebuilding process resulted in a few more departures. Guards Trey Lewis and Matt Glover, two DeChellis recruits, both decided to leave the program after one year under Chambers. Lewis apparently did not buy into Chambers’ style, and Glover wanted to play closer to his home in California. Additionally, guard Tre Bowman was dismissed from the team.
Transfers are common parts of the rebuilding process. Plus, Chambers and his staff have shown to be relentless recruiters, using Philly connections to help boost the talent level of the Penn State roster through both high school recruits and transfers from other schools. As long as the players Chambers is bringing in surpass those who left in terms of talent, the program is headed in a positive direction.
With Penn State traveling to Iowa on Thursday for another Big Ten game, the team’s struggles will likely continue. The team lost Frazier to injury early on in the year, which pretty much doomed them from the start. Frazier’s absence has allowed players like D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall to assume leadership roles, while Ross Travis and freshman Brandon Taylor have had to shoulder more of a load offensively.
All of these players, including Frazier (who will take a medical redshirt), will return next year and Pitt transfer John Johnson will be eligible next spring. Yes, I know. That 0-8 conference record looks ugly right now, but some patience will prove that this program is headed in the right direction. These growing pains in the best conference in the country can only prove dividends in the future.
Where Are They Now?
- Chris Babb transferred to Iowa State and has started in his two years with the Cyclones. Last year he averaged 7.8 points per game. This year, he has increased his scoring to 8.8 points per game.
- Bill Edwards transferred to Miami (Ohio) after just one season in Happy Valley. He averaged 6.7 points in 25.7 minutes per game last year. Edwards had been averaging 10.8 points per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury against James Madison.
- Taran Buie landed at Hofstra after averaging 5.8 points per game in 11 non-conference games in his only season at Penn State. Buie leads the 5-15 Pride in scoring at 15.1 points per game.
- Tre Bowman landed at Iona University of the MAAC Conference after stops at Midland College (Texas) and Texas Southern. In his first season at Iona, Bowman is averaging 8.3 points per game and shooting 39.3 percent from three.
- Matt Glover transferred to University of San Francisco to play closer to his Orange, California home. He is sitting out this year to comply with NCAA transfer guidelines.
- Trey Lewis transferred to Cleveland State University and is sitting out this year to comply with NCAA transfer guidelines.
What Could Have Been
- Juwan Staten was a four-star recruit out of heralded Oak Hill Academy who originally committed to play for Dayton University. He left the Flyers and committed to transfer to Penn State in April 2011. When DeChellis bolted for Navy, Staten decided to head to West Virginia. He starts at guard for Mountaineers and averages just under 10 points per game as a redshirt sophomore.
- Trey Burke was once committed to be a Penn State Nittany Lion. Now a star and potential All-American at Michigan, Burke re-opened his recruitment in May of 2010 after Penn State’s struggled and other, more-heralded programs started to show interest. This one stings.