UNIVERSITY?PARK - Get past returning starter Tim Frazier, plus regular subs Cammeron Woodyard, Billy Oliver, and Jermaine Marshall, and there aren't many names on the Penn State men's basketball roster fans will recognize.
The Nittany Lions, who finished 19-15 and earned their first NCAA tournament bid in 10 years last season only to lose on a first-round buzzer-beater to Temple, are starting over again.
"We're learning and getting better every day," said Oliver, a 6-foot-8 junior forward. "We're excited to have coach DeChellis, er, coach Chambers as our new coach."
That slipup was one of the very few references to the past during Tuesday's preseason media day at the Bryce Jordan Center. Coach Pat Chambers wants his roster to look to the future in his first year replacing Ed DeChellis, who left in the spring for Navy. And since Penn State's 15-man roster has just 4 upperclassmen, there figures to be plenty of chances after losing senior starters Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones, and DJ Jackson. The four accounted for 78 percent of last year's scoring.
"We all have our pocket full of excuses. We lost Talor and 3 other seniors," said Chambers, quick to downplay any specific win total or postseason aspiration.
"I don't want to put any lofty goals in there with a team that's just getting to know each other and a team that's just starting to build trust," said Chambers. "Once we do build those foundations, those building blocks, this team is going to compete."
One team-building tactic under way is Chambers starting an "Attitude Club" in which team managers track players' hustle and non-scoring statistics, such as dives, charges taken, deflections, rebounds, and more. Most of the players said Frazier, a junior point guard, leads those standings most of the time.
"I've beaten him a couple of times, but that's why he's the leader of this team," said Trey Lewis, a 6-foot-1 freshman guard.
Chambers said another goal of this club was to follow whether players were trying hard when the shots weren't falling, and hoped to regularly list all 15 players on the chart after practice.
Team building was just part of the part of Chambers' duties. Team retention was the first, as he also had to make sure he kept DeChellis' recruits. One way to do that was to visit a players' home, eat dinner with his family, and sell the program just like he was talking to a high school kid.
"I was solid the whole time," said Lewis, who liked Penn State for its overall reputation, if not necessarily its basketball tradition. "We fed ideas off him, and it was a great opportunity."
Chambers arrived in State College promising to make recruiting inroads in the Northeast corridor, no doubt a daunting challenge but perhaps one blessed with good timing as the Big East's future remains in flux with Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia departing. But selling Penn State to future players won't be any easier if he can't put on a good show with his existing ones.
That means converting the energy players talked about in practice to use in the games, which start for real Saturday, Nov. 12 vs. Hartford, the same day as the football team plays host to Nebraska. Neither of those starting times have been set, as Penn State awaits a TV network selection.
The Nittany Lions' main on-court worries appear to be how much Frazier can produce, how well Oliver and Woodyard develop as other leaders, who can impress among the underclassmen and, of course, who can score.
Chambers has compared Frazier's ability to stars he coached at Villanova, such as Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye, but said a most important task he can fulfill is to look like a leader.
"I was a point guard, and it's always your fault," said Chambers. "It's not so much his body language, but it's his reaction to certain plays and your team feeds off those reactions. If those reactions can be a little more intense, more upbeat and more positive, then it is going to be a domino effect into the rest of the team."
Woodyard returned to practice this week after a left knee injury. He said he felt great getting back on the floor, and tried to be productive in his downtime. Chambers' praised the leadership development, as Woodyard could often answer younger players' questions.
"I used to be quiet. Now, I'm ready for the challenge," said Woodyard.
Forward Sasa Borovnjak said he's not quite 100 percent after missing last year with a torn right ACL. The hardest part has been executing pivots and other physical plays in the paint.
"The most important thing is trust and trying not to think about it when you play," said Borovnjak. "You can't think about it when you play."
Guard Jermaine Marshall, the second-leading returning scorer, is still suspended for violating team rules. He was listed on the roster given to the media Tuesday.
"Right now, Jermaine is continuing to do what we asked him to do academically," said Chambers, who said he met with Marshall Monday.
KENTUCKY IN NOVEMBER
Chambers hoped the non-conference schedule, one he said he had experience building as a Villanova assistant, would get the Lions ready for the Big Ten opener Dec. 29 at Michigan. They host Mississippi and visit Duquesne and St. Joe's and Boston College. But the highlight is Nov. 19 vs. Kentucky at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn.
"You know about Kentucky when you're a young kid, watching the greats come out of there like Rajon Rondo," said Frazier. "You try not to look too far ahead, but winning that game would be a great feeling."
Chambers wasn't looking past his home exhibition Saturday.
"Right now, I'm worried about Slippery Rock," said Chambers.
Another change for the program is a "Hoops Madness" event on campus tonight in Rec Hall, the program's home on the west end of campus before the Bryce Jordan Center opened during the 1995-96 season.
The games and contests and promotions designed to build excitement for the program, will feature a performance by rapper Fabolouos.
"Sometimes you deserve something fun," said Chambers, who said this was about the current players and students and not a recruiting tool.
"I think it's going to be really cool because we haven't had anything like that in the last couple years," said Lewis. "This is going to be a chance for us to bond and share the whole collegiate experience."