Refreshing change:Lions have deeper bench; Frazier back in fold
UNIVERSITY PARK – If third-year coach Patrick Chambers has his way, the Penn State basketball team will be going deep this year. Not deep in the Hackenberg-to-Robinson sense, of course. But rather, rolling more players through his rotation.
By the end of a difficult 2012-13 campaign in which the Nittany Lions went 10-21 overall and 2-16 in the Big Ten – and lost 14 straight at one point – Chambers was basically going with a six-man rotation.
The biggest boost to the nucleus is the return of 2011-12 first-team All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier, who was lost for the ’12-13 season when he blew out an Achilles in the fourth game. But PSU also welcomes four true freshmen and three transfers. One transfer is eligible immediately and another can take the floor in late December.
“It’s gonna be new for me,” Chambers said when asked about depth during PSU’s media day at the Jordan Center Thursday. “There will be great options to have moving forward, especially as they continue to grow as a team and individuals. But to be able to have some different options and use the bench sometimes as my friend is going to be refreshing.”
Now a fifth-year senior, Frazier spent most of last season hanging out with the Penn State coaches on that very same bench. He used it as a learning experience.
“I was a coach for a year,” Frazier said. “I think that’s going to benefit me as far as being in [Chambers’] ear all the time, being that middle man between coaches and players. … I hope I benefitted. I think I did.”
Frazier is less than a year out from surgery to repair the Achilles injury but insists he is already back at 100 percent. Chambers concurs, saying his star guard is “fearless” on the floor and actually improved his vertical leap by half an inch (to 35.5 inches).
“Usually your vertical is going to go down because of a ruptured Achilles,” Chambers said. “Not his. His went up. Pretty amazing.”
He’ll be joined in the starting backcourt by junior D.J. Newbill, a natural off-guard who took over at the point when Frazier was hurt last season. To get them used to playing together, Chambers has had them on the same team every day during the preseason.
“I see them looking for each other,” Chambers said. “I see them making plays for each other.”
If the season were to start tomorrow, the rest of the starting lineup would include Ross Travis at small forward, Brandon Taylor at power forward and Donovan Jack at center.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Travis is the best rebounder on the team, but worked on his handle and shooting in the off-season so he can become a mismatch for opponents on the wing. At 6-7, 235, Taylor is hardly a prototypical four man. But Chambers believes his ability to hit 3-pointers will cause problems for opposing defenses.
Jack is the only member of this group without significant experience. The 6-9, 215-pounder averaged only 6.6 minutes per outing last season before missing the final nine games with a stress fracture in his foot. He is the team’s most athletic pure post player since Jeff Brooks and Chambers said he excels at long-range shooting. But how will he hold up while taking the physical pounding he’s sure to absorb in the Big Ten?
There are no such questions about the two sturdy transfer guards who will play this season. Allen Roberts graduated early from Miami of Ohio and is eligible immediately. He’s 6-3, 214, and Chambers called him the best 3-point shooter on the team.
Pitt transfer John Jones, who becomes eligible in late December, has already been through the Big East battles. Chambers thinks he’ll provide instant offense off the bench.
The coach also expects all four true freshmen to play.
“They came in at a high level, started competing at a high level and really pushed the veterans,” Chambers said.
This group includes: 6-0 point guard Graham Woodward of Edina, Minn.; 6-3 wing Geno Thorpe of Pittsburgh; 6-6 forward Payton Banks of Orange, Calif.; and 6-10 center Julian Moore of suburban Philadelphia.
None of which even takes into account veteran walk-ons Kevin Montminy (at guard) and Alan Wisniewski (at center), each of whom saw spot action – albeit limited – in Big Ten play last winter.
The 15-man roster includes massive 7-0, 240-pound Jordan Dickerson, a transfer from SMU. But he will not be eligible until the 2014-15 season.
Even so, by late December, Chambers should have 14 players at his disposal. And it is reasonable to expect at least 10 – and perhaps more – to be in the mix for playing time.
“It gives you that much more depth on your bench,” Chambers said. “To (be able to) say I can go to this guy and believe in (the decision) and trust in it and not look down and go, wow. I played five guys in the (March 7) Northwestern game in the second half (last year). I don’t have to do that this year.”
Penn State eases into the season with a Nov. 3 home exhibition against Northwood, Fla., Nov. 3. The regular season begins when Wagner visits the BJC Nov. 9.