Has Penn State broken through in coach Patrick Chambers’ fourth season?
Early returns are promising. The Nittany Lions ended their nonconference schedule at 12-1, the best start since 1995. Guard D.J. Newbill is looking like a potential Big Ten Player of the Year.
Chambers said his team has “clearly met and exceeded” his high expectations before the season.”I’ve learned a lot about our team,” he said.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves.”
“I learned that we’re mentally tough. We’re not going to quit,” he said. “We’re going to continue, we’re going to continue to handle adversity and challenges. These seniors, the last three years they’ve seen it all. They’ve been blown out. They’ve had injuries. You name it, we’ve gone through it.”
— Coach Patrick Chambers
Chambers came to Penn State in 2011 after a pair of 21-win seasons at Boston University. Before that, he was Jay Wright’s top assistant at Villanova. Chambers replaced Ed DeChellis, who abruptly resigned and went to Navy after leading Penn State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2001.
Chambers inherited a young, inexperienced roster and the Lions struggled to a 12-20 record, followed by 10-21 in 2012-13, a season essentially ruined when star point guard Tim Frazier suffered a torn Achilles tendon four games in.
Frazier returned last season, and the Lions started out 0-6 in Big Ten play, followed by six consecutive wins. Inconsistencies led to another sub-.500 record, but the 16 wins reflected improvement.
Penn State gets a major test in its conference opener Wednesday at No. 6 Wisconsin (11-1).
“We’ve got to clean up some of our habits,” Chambers said. “I still think there’s a better team within this team.
“Our culture has really changed. Our locker room has really changed because of the players we have and because of their commitment. They want to be successful.”
There also is talent, starting with Newbill, who is having an extraordinary season. The 6-foot-4 senior leads the conference in scoring (21.4 ppg), with a team-best assists average (3.2) and a healthy 4.8 rebounds a game. He also is shooting 47 percent, 39.3 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s really efficient,” Chambers said. “He doesn’t need a lot of shots to get it done.”
Chambers added, “He’s obviously the leading scorer on the team, but there’s easily more than that. He’s our heart and soul. He’s our leader, and he’s our warrior. Our guys feed off him. Because of his leadership and because of the identity he’s created for his team, that’s why were 12-1. … It’s exciting to coach a kid like that in 2014. It doesn’t happen often, and when you get a kid like this, you cherish it.”
— Penn State Hoops (@PennStateMBB) December 25, 2014