October 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions men

Penn State Basketball - An Honest Assessment

Earlier this year, with the basketball squad just a few games into what now stands at an 11 game losing streak, I took a look at just what the absence of Tim Frazier has meant to this team.  Nearly a month later, and still winless in the Big 10, frustration is beginning to take root amongst segments of the fanbase. Of course no one is happy with the 0-11 conference mark, but the question is should we really be surprised.

Patrick Chambers was hired at Penn State in early June of 2011, after the sudden resignation of Ed DeChellis.  PSU was coming off their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the Sweet 16 run of 2001.  However, they would graduate 4 starters off that team (Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson, Andrew Jones), returning only Tim Frazier, who only became a regular starter later in that season.  A team that eeked into the tournament as a 10 seed, was set to lose virtually their entire offense, and their coach.

Feb 9, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head Coach Patrick Chambers watches his team in the second half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Nebraska won 67-53. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Chambers entered at a point where obviously the the incoming recruiting class (Ross Travis, Trey Lewis, Peter Alexis, Patrick Ackerman) was set.  Perhaps more important to the long term health of the program, he was squarely behind the 8 ball with the class that would enroll in the fall of 2012..  With college basketball’s early signing period in November, a huge majority of prospects had already committed to their schools, leaving little time, and few players for Chambers to recruit to PSU. Ultimately the Lions signed a class of 3.  Brandon Taylor has shown the most promise, but has had trouble staying out of foul trouble, while losing his shooting touch in B1G play.  Donovan Jack has played sporadically on the inside, while Akosa Maduegbunam has not seen much action.

From a wins and losses standpoint, the 2011-2012 season was not stellar (12-20, 4-15).  But Chambers’ team played with an intensity that endeared them to the fanbase, seldom being run out of the gym, while Tim Frazier emerged as one of the top point guards not only in the conference, but in the country.  Trey Lewis, Peter Alexis and Matt Glover would all transfer out of the program (to Cleveland State, Philadelphia University, and San Francisco University, respectively), opening up 3 additional scholarships for the staff.

This season was already shaping up to be a struggle, and that was apparent even before the Frazier injury.  But the loss of half of the 2011 signing class, and short time frame for the 2012 class, depth was going to be an issues.  That has been exposed more than anyone expected with the loss of Frazier.  Players are playing out of position because of that, and there just aren’t many options on the bench.  Especially recently, Chambers has been trying any combination he can think of to spark his squad.

Regardless of how this season ends, I do feel a sense of optimism for the 2013-2014 campaign, and beyond.  Of course Frazier returns, but just as key, guys like D.J. Newbill, Jermaine Marshall, Ross Travis, and Brandon Taylor will return to roles that suit them much better.  The Lions will still lack a true inside presence, but suddenly the backcourt becomes very solid.  PSU has also signed 4 players that will enroll this fall, Geno Thorpe, Julian Moore, Payton Banks, and Graham Woodward.  Thorpe, Banks, and Woodward add depth to the backcourt, where it is sorely needed, while Moore will join a front court that should have plenty of opportunities to earn playing time.  PSU will also add Pitt transfer John Johnson, another combo guard that Chambers loves.

I suppose this is the part of my rambling where I tell you why I’m optimistic about the direction of the program, despite a 20-35 record for Chambers.  In short, it is because Patrick Chambers is on the bench.  The man oozes energy, and dare I say, attitude.  He hasn’t made a single excuse since arriving on campus, when quite honestly, plenty have been available.  He’s endeared himself to the PSU community, and is constantly selling his program.  He’s opened up a pipeline to Philadelphia that the Lions have never enjoyed.  From 1990-2011, a total of 6 players from the hoops hotbed played in Happy Valley.  Next year’s roster will include 3 (Newbill, Johnson, Moore), with a 4th (Taylor) from the Philly area.

It’s easy to say the first two years for Chambers should be viewed out of context, but it’s hard to argue given the circumstances and timing of his hiring.  He had a bare cupboard when he took over, and not much opportunity to stock it quickly.  Next fall, for lack of a better term, it starts to count. And I think we will all be pleased with the results.

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