UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State's Patrick Chambers is comfortable looking ahead because of one player in particular who is coming back.
The Nittany Lions coach has a two-year record of 22-41 that includes a 6-30 mark in the Big Ten, yet he shows no trepidation about saying that he want this year's squad to finish in the top half of the conference.
His optimism stems from the return of point guard Tim Frazier, who was a force during Chambers' first season, but missed all but four games last year because of an Achilles tendon injury.
Frazier led the nation in 2011-12 by accounting for 58 percent of his team's offense with 208 field goals and 198 assists; he averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game.
He'll be joined in the backcourt by D.J. Newbill, who last season ran the point in Frazier's absence, and scored 16 points per game.
"It's kind of like having two floor generals on the court now," Newbill said.
Transfers John Johnson (Pitt) and Allen Roberts (Miami, Ohio) and freshmen Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward are also in the mix. That certainly helps Chambers' optimistic outlook.
"I really want us to be in the top half of the Big Ten this year," Chambers said. "I don't want us to be in the bottom. If we can stay healthy, we can do some great things."
Frazier hopes to use his quickness to help Penn State repeat the success it enjoyed in 2011 when it finished second in the Big Ten tournament but lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game to Temple, 66-64.
"I'm not a big, stocky guy so speed is my best asset," Frazier said. "Any time I can use that is going to make me feel that much better. We're fast guys, especially those young freshmen. That is going to benefit us."
Projected frontcourt starters are center Donovon Jack and forwards Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor. Travis is the Big Ten's second-leading returning rebounder (7.4).
Here are five things to know about Penn State:
AN ON-COURT COACH: Frazier served as an assistant coach while rehabilitating last season. "I was a coach for a year and not many players are able to say they were a coach and then come back and play," he said. "I think that's going to benefit me from being in [Chambers'] ear all the time." Chambers said that Frazier's basketball IQ is "off the charts now; he's aware of everything in this program."
HIS BEST SHOT: Chambers said he helped Newbill "tweak" his shot over the summer by not allowing him to take a shot from outside the paint for 30 straight days. "He stayed disciplined and he did it," Chambers said. "It's very noticeable; shots are falling through."
THE NEW GUYS: Johnson will be eligible on Dec. 22. "I don't think it will take me long to get adjusted," Johnson said. "We practice very hard and we go game speed in practice. The speed of the game won't be a problem for me." And Chambers is enthused about Roberts, who will be eligible for the team's Nov. 9 opener against Wagner: "Right now, he's our best 3-point shooter."
SUMMER VACATION: The Lions won two of three games in August on a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands designed for extra practice and a little bonding. "I know this sounds funny saying that they like each other, that they genuinely care about each other, but you win some games you're not supposed to win when you have that," Chambers said.
THE SCHEDULE: Penn State's non-conference schedule is highlighted by games with Penn, La Salle, St. John's and Pittsburgh. The Lions open their Big Ten schedule New Year's Eve at home against Michigan State. "It's a long season," Chambers said. "We have to continue to be the best team we can be by the end of the year and I think we've done that.
"Looking at our record you might not agree with that, but I think we've finished strong both years and won some games maybe we weren't supposed to."