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Jim Ferry Deserves Credit For Helping Penn State Hoops Battle Through 2020-21 Campaign

Just a few weeks from its start this past November, it looked as if Penn State’s men’s basketball’s 2020-21 season had the makings of an unmitigated disaster.

After their dream 2020 campaign was cut short due to the coronavirus, the Nittany Lions hit another hurdle in June. Head coach Pat Chambers faced criticism for an alleged “noose comment” directed at former Penn State guard Rasir Bolton that eventually led to his transfer.

All seemed well in the following months, but in October, Chambers suddenly resigned following an investigation into other alleged inappropriate conduct. Over the next few weeks, Sandy Barbour and Penn State Athletics didn’t give a clear answer on why Chambers was asked to resign, and that came to a head at the team’s media day later that November.

Star players such as Jamari Wheeler and Myles Dread shared their displeasure with the university and simply wanted answers on why their coach was gone.

“No, I am not at peace with it,” Dread said. “I will not be at peace with it until everybody has answers into why, but that is all I have on the subject.”

As the team aired out its grievances on the situation just days before the season opener, a squad that finished the prior season with a 21-10 record and a certain NCAA Tournament berth suddenly looked like it was in serious trouble.

Interim head coach Jim Ferry was called upon to step into this touchy situation but earned his players’ trust from day one as they bought into his coaching style. The Nittany Lions opened the season with a promising 2-0 record and even earned a massive upset over No. 15 Virginia Tech on their first road trip of the season.

Ferry’s team hit some struggles from there, as it lost its five first Big Ten games and even hit an extended break due to COVID-19 cases within the program. As frustrating as some of those points may have been, the Nittany Lions battled until the bitter end and put themselves into a position to hang with the best conference in college basketball until the final few weeks of the campaign.

Plenty of credit obviously goes to star players like Wheeler, Harrar, Izaiah Brockington, and several others. But Ferry’s ability to hold the team together during what could’ve been an ugly season shouldn’t be forgotten.

Besides the 11 wins, multiple heroic comebacks, two victories over ranked opponents, Ferry helped bring out the best in all of the Nittany Lions. Most notably, Wheeler and Harrar developed strong bonds with the long-time coach who’d been on Penn State’s staff throughout their careers.

Harrar and Ferry especially had a strong bond, as the interim head coach discussed it just before Penn State’s final few stretch of the regular season.

“John’s a warrior. I feel like there’s so much on his back, but he’s just taking it all,” Ferry said. “I get choked up sometimes when I talk about John because of what he’s willing to sacrifice and what he’s willing to do. That’s why we’re in these positions, that’s why we’re playing good basketball, and that’s why we have an opportunity to keep competing and keep winning games.”

To Ferry’s point, Penn State put itself in a position to win several impressive games. For starters, the Nittany Lions lost to both Michigan and Ohio State by just four points each on the road. While there’s never much of a positive to losing games, battling to the bitter end against two teams that could very well end up in this year’s Final Four is nothing to scoff at.

Ferry’s time with the Nittany Lions is presumably over, as the program officially hired former Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry as its full-time head coach Monday.

With that, the 2020-21 season may now be considered the forgotten year after the Pat Chambers’ fiasco. However, Ferry’s effort shouldn’t get lost in that shuffle. His ability to unify his players and staff amid serious off-court issues and a pandemic was nothing short of impressive. At the very least, that should certainly qualify him for a head coaching job at a different program in the near future.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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