Rob Krimmel grew up watching Penn State's basketball team play at Rec Hall. His brother, Ken, played on the Nittany Lions' Sweet 16 team in 2001. And his father, Bob, worked at PSU for more than 30 years before becoming athletic director at St. Francis.
Not many coaches get to return to their hometown for the first game of their head coaching careers, let alone a place where their family has so much history. Krimmel will get that opportunity tonight when his Red Flash squad and the Nittany Lions tip off their seasons at the Bryce Jordan Center.
"It's going to be a neat experience, and I'm looking forward to it," said Rob Krimmel, a St. Francis alum and assistant coach the past 12 seasons.
"What [Penn State] has meant to my family, it's certainly a pretty special opportunity."
Krimmel has a lot to look forward to leading up to the game, but once the ball is tossed in the air, he could to be in for a long night in his debut.
Penn State returns standout senior guard Tim Frazier and has Southern Miss transfer guard D.J. Newbill now eligible. Those two figure to make things tough on the Red Flash, who have gone just 7-60 on the road in the past four seasons.
St. Francis men at Penn State
Tipoff: 7 p.m., Bryce Jordan Center
Records: St. Francis (0-0); Penn State (0-0)
Coaches: Rob Krimmel is making his head coaching debut for St. Francis. Patrick Chambers went 12-20 in his first season at Penn State.
Radio: ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM
Probable starters: St. Francis -- G Umar Shannon, 5-11 Jr. (15.8 two seasons ago), G Stephon Whyatt, 6-1 So. (7.2), G Anthony Ervin, 6-3 Sr. (11.2), F Earl Brown, 6-6 So. (6.0), F Ronnie Drinnon, 6-7 Fr. (first game). Penn State -- G Tim Frazier, 6-1 Sr. (18.8), G D.J. Newbill, 6-4 So. (9.2 two seasons ago at Southern Miss), G Jermaine Marshall, 6-4 Jr. (10.8), F Ross Travis, 6-6 So. (4.4), F Jon Graham, 6-8 So. (3.9).
Notes: Shannon's left knee is still a concern, and how long he plays and how well he plays will help determine how long SFU can hang around in the game. ... All eyes will be on Frazier and Newbill for PSU, but for the Lions to make big strides this year, Travis and Graham will have to become bigger forces inside. ... Chambers said he expects SFU to shoot a lot of 3-pointers and noted defending that aspect will be a focus for his team this season. ... PSU leads the all-time series, 8-2. The Flash haven't beaten the Lions since 1978.
Mirror prediction: Penn State 79, St. Francis 57
Comment: The Flash would have been able to give PSU a much better game if Shannon were 100 percent and had center Scott Eatherton not transferred to Northeastern. As it stands, this one shouldn't be close.
Mirror prediction record: 0-0
-- Cory Giger
Lions coach Patrick Chambers repeatedly has said Frazier and Newbill could be the best backcourt in the country, and he hasn't backed away from that bold prediction. Frazier has proven himself as an elite player in the Big Ten, but the sophomore Newbill has yet to do so.
Chambers doesn't think he's putting too much pressure on Newbill with his comments. He said he thought long and hard about whether or not to make that kind of prediction, but he believes Newbill will benefit from it.
"A kid like D.J., he wants that type of pressure, he wants that type of challenge," Chambers said.
Newbill averaged 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman at Southern Miss two years ago. Chambers admitted the 6-foot-4 guard is a little rusty after sitting out last season but believes "he's up to the task" of becoming a standout at PSU.
Frazier enjoyed a breakthrough year last season, averaging 19.6 points in Big Ten play (second in the league) and 18.8 points overall. The lightning-quick 6-1 guard spent the offseason trying to improve his overall game and especially his jump shot.
"He's playing at a very high level, I'd say an elite level in practice," Chambers said.
"He's taking pride in doing everything at a very high level, which is great, and shooting the 3 much better than he did last year. Much better. Now, to me, he's going to be one of those guy's that's unguardable."
St. Francis has a standout guard of its own in junior Umar Shannon, a second-team all-Northeast Conference player two years ago. Shannon suffered an ACL injury in his left knee in the opener last season, and the Flash's hopes of enjoying a solid campaign essentially ended when he had to miss the rest of the year.
The 5-11 guard is still not back to 100 percent and sat out SFU's exhibition game against Penn State Altoona.
"He's less than a year removed from surgery," Krimmel said. "We're just trying to bring him back at a pace -- you know, we need him in January and February. We don't want to rush him back just to rush him back. He's progressing as we had hoped."
Krimmel isn't sure if Shannon can log as many as 25 minutes tonight and said his playing time will be determined on a game-by-game basis early in the season.
"I just want to make sure I don't get greedy and throw him out there before he's ready to go," Krimmel said.
Frazier is expected to guard Shannon tonight, giving the SFU guard a major challenge because of his quickness. If Shannon's knee isn't strong enough for him to go full speed, Frazier could make it tough on him to get off clean shots.
While Krimmel, who replaced Don Friday, will be making his head coaching debut, Chambers will be starting his second season with the Lions. He went 12-20 a year ago and 4-14 in the Big Ten.
"I have butterflies," Chambers said of tonight's opener. "I don't think it's from nervousness, I think it's more about excitement.
"You get to coach a different team. We have newcomers, and we have guys who are better this year. There's just an exciting feeling around our program, an exciting feeling around the locker room that we have a chance to be a lot better than we were last year."