Penn State Basketball Has Best Days Ahead
Coming into the 2012 season, the expectations for Penn State basketball team were at an all-time low. Their top four scorers, including the leading scorer in school history, Talor Battle, had graduated. Their head coach had bolted the program for Navy, and a new coach, Patrick Chambers, was brought in. The roster was filled with underclassmen and only one returning starter. These players would be thrown out to play with the sharks of the best basketball conference in the country, the Big Ten. “It’ll be a miracle if they win one conference game,” thought many fans.
On paper, the 2012 season for Penn State basketball was a colossal failure. The numbers don’t lie. With one regular season game remaining, the Lions boast a 12-18 overall record (4-13 in Big Ten play). The Lions have shot 39.4% from the field as a team, 30.4% from beyond the arc. They lost to Lafayette and Duquesne. But when you consider the inexperienced team that was thrown out on the floor every night, it’s hard to consider the 2012 campaign a failure.
Pat Chambers has injected a new source of life to the program. He took the scraps from an Ed DeChellis (who led Navy to a 3-26 record!) roster, who, aside from Tim Frazier and Billy Oliver, never played significant minutes at a college level, and did a phenomenal job. He got these guys to work hard, play defense, and buy in to the new mantra of Penn State basketball: ATTITUDE.
We’ve seen Tim Frazier transition from an apprehensive point guard setting up his teammates, to a fearless leader who is near the top of the Big Ten in numerous statistical categories. Despite his recent struggles, we’ve seen a walk-on, Nick Colella, log serious minutes and hold his own on the defensive end, and contribute double-digit scoring efforts against ranked Indiana and on the road against Iowa. We’ve seen Billy Oliver, whose season and career ended prematurely due to reoccurring head problems, connect on seven 3-pointers in a home upset over Purdue. These accomplishments have Coach Chambers’ fingerprints all over them.
As a 12-18 record will indicate, there were certainly bumps along the way. That can be expected with a team of 10 freshmen and sophomores, 6 of whom (Sasa Borovnjak, Matt Glover, Jon Graham, Trey Lewis, Jermaine Marshall, and Ross Travis) normally play significant minutes when healthy. This in-game experience is invaluable for the growth of these young players. With a whole year under Chambers’ tutelage, these players will continue to improve.
It’s hard not to look at the future of the program with a sense of optimism. We’ve seen flashes of excellence from some of these young guys, especially Marshall. Marshall was plagued by inconsistency after a few 20-point performances early in the year. Coach Chambers has been in his face non-stop. By season’s end, Marshall was regularly putting 10-14 points on the board game after game. He hit an enormous three in the final minutes to help seal a win over Iowa, and he had the game-saving block against Illinois. Jermaine Marshall is a player to keep your eye on heading into next season.
I’m the one of the most pessimistic people I know, but I can’t help but be optimistic about the direction this program is heading in. Tim Frazier will return for his senior season. Southern Miss transfer D.J. Newbill will be eligible, and will be a huge asset for the team and take some of the scoring load off the shoulders of Frazier and Marshall. That trio, alongside the improving Jon Graham, explosive Ross Travis, and heralded recruit Brandon Taylor coming into the fold, next year the Nittany Lions could surprise some people. Not to mention, Chambers has verbal commitments from two studs from the class of 2013, Geno Thorpe and Brandon Austin.
So as the Nittany Lions wrap up their season against Michigan on Sunday, then a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament, don’t be frustrated by their shortcomings this season. Instead, look ahead to next year with a sense of optimism. There are better days coming.