With fall in full swing and football halfway through its season, people can forget that Penn State basketball is right around the corner. The season doesn’t officially start until November 3, but the Nittany Lion basketball team held its annual media day today, highlighted by a press conference from head coach Pat Chambers.
Chambers was very clear about one thing; this team has improved on and off the court. Despite missing almost all season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, former All-Big Ten selection Tim Frazier grew a lot as a player and benefited from getting to watch the season from a coach’s perspective, according to Chambers.
“His IQ is off the charts now,” Chambers said. “The leadership level that he is showing in the locker room, on the floor, he totally understands by just seeing it, watching it and understanding it. It’s kind of one of those ‘I never knew what was going because I’m in the practice’ things. Now, by sitting out he sees it and by being a leader.”
Physically, Chambers said that Frazier is right back where he was before his injury and that his vertical has even improved by a half-inch to an insane 35.5 inches.
Chambers also said that the team’s European tour this August helped the team improve, especially from a team-building perspective.
“We got great kids, they really like to compete and they like each other,” Chambers said. “I know this sounds funny, but saying that they like each other, genuinely care about each other and that there’s love in that locker room, you win some games you’re not supposed to win when you have that.”
Chambers attributed much of the team’s chemistry to veterans like Frazier, redshirt junior D.J. Newbill, and junior Ross Travis, who he says have helped the team in the locker room almost as much as on the court. He emphasized that Travis, the Big Ten’s fourth leading rebounder last winter, is expected to step up as a team leader.
“We want Ross Travis to step up and lead,” Chambers said. “He’s been here now two seasons going on three. He wants to win, he works extremely hard, and he wants to help these young guys. He’s been very vocal and shows a lot in his effort on a daily basis. He’s an ambassador for us now. Nobody embodies Penn State basketball like Ross Travis, he’s a perfect example.”
In addition to the new leadership, Chambers was excited about this year’s incoming freshman class and even said that, as of now, he expects many of them to play this season. Frazier shares Chambers’ excitement, saying that, already, they show signs of improvement.
“We have a great group of freshmen that I’m very proud of, ” Frazier said. “They’ve come a long way, and I think that’s benefited us the most because they’re eager, ready to listen as much as possible.”
Other notes from the press conferences:
- Apparently, over the summer, Chambers made D.J. Newbill go 30 days without shooting outside of the paint in order to improve his jumper. Newbill said that, despite being tough at first, he now feels like he’s more comfortable shooting and he’s hitting a higher percentage of his shots.
- Despite all the hype around hockey this year, Chambers is confident that fan interest will not be taken from basketball. “It’s a different fan, it gives our students that much more to do,” Chambers said. “I don’t think they cross-over at all.” He also said he was interested in potentially collaborating with hockey to have double-headers in the future, so students could go to a basketball game, then immediately go to Pegula for a hockey game.
- With the incoming freshman class and the development of older players, Chambers expects to have a lot more depth this year and to use it. He used the example of playing Northwestern last year, when the Nittany Lions had the same five players in the entire second half, saying that won’t have to happen anymore. Chambers also said he expects the depth to help a lot at the end of games, so the team can be more aggressive instead of playing to run down the clock and conserve energy.
- Chambers says the team has done a lot of work preparing for the new interpretation of the NCAA’s hand-check rule, but overall he believes the rule will help the team in the long run. “Tim Frazier should lead the Big Ten in free-throw attempts this year and D.J. Newbill should be right behind,” he said.
- Chambers wouldn’t give any set expectations in terms of wins or postseason appearances, but earlier in the press conference he said “I really want us to be in the top half of the Big Ten this year, I don’t want us to be in the bottom.”
- As of right now, the “penciled-in” starting five for the Nittany Lions is Tim Frazier, D.J. Newbill, Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Donovan Jack, although Chambers made sure to mention that the line-up is subject to change.