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PSU basketball exercise in patience

By Thomas Smith

For area sports enthusiasts, especially basketball fans, another thrilling March Madness has just ended, accentuated by a one-year pandemic hiatus.

Once again, however, Penn State did not qualify for the NCAA or the NIT tournament.

Last year (2019-20), the Nittany Lions had an outstanding team and most assuredly would have been included in the Big Dance save for the pandemic caused cancellation.

Having been a PSU basketball season ticket holder since 1983 and a follower since 1969, the program has shown flashes of greatness but has never consistently won in any conference as well as independent status, sporting cumulative losing records in the Eastern Eight, Atlantic 10 and Big Ten.

This program has been dissected, bisected and trisected by the media, former players and coaches, not to mention the fan base, for oh, about 55-plus years, in an attempt to explain the lack of national success.

Often, people point to coaching as a principal cause of the problem, but a very strong case can be made for every PSU coach since the late 1960s as being very qualified, motivated and tactically sound.

John Bach, Dick Harter, Bruce Parkhill, Jerry Dunn, Ed DeChellis, Patrick Chambers and Jim Ferry, who did an outstanding job thrown in the breech last minute, all truly fit the above mentioned qualities. It appears that every year the coaching is strong, the motivation is present and a determined effort is demonstrated by the players.

However, there are always challenges faced by each team — not enough big men, not quick enough, not physical enough, lack of shooting talent or injuries or defections and so on.

Yes, every program has similar situations but somehow manages to work through those to have consistent winning years.

No one is demanding that Penn State has a 22-year consecutive run to the NCAA tournament, like Michigan State, but for a program to qualify a mere four times since before 1970 is inexcusable.

Especially at Penn State, which will soon complete another capital campaign, this time raising $2.1 billion for “A Greater Penn State,” exhibiting substantial resources to help support a first-class men’s basketball program.

There is no reason whatsoever that a solid Power-5 school like Penn State should not have a top-notch basketball program.

Virtually every other one of the school’s 31 varsity sports is highly ranked nationally annually with many sporting multiple national championships. Some have criticized the venue, the Bryce Jordan Center, as not being a basketball friendly arena — too cavernous, distant sight lines and a steep upper deck.

While somewhat true, that appears to be a weak excuse as in 1995-96, when the team boasted five fifth-year seniors and Top 10 national ranking. Albeit for a brief period, the BJC was packed, including the now black-shrouded upper portion.

Penn State has been recruiting much better, especially under Chambers, but the talent gap is still formidable compared to schools like Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Illinois and others.

Hopefully new coach Micah Shrewsberry, who is highly heralded from a proven program, and his staff can bridge the gap and can do it soon.

Fans in Central Pennsylvania and beyond have proven that they will support sports programs, but there has to be a solid marketable product in exchange.

Obviously, solid crowds would generate much needed income for the PSU sports programs, especially in a 16,000-seat facility.

Many, many of us have paid the freight for virtually a lifetime, weathering no less than six rebuilds. We may not have time for another six.

Here is wishing Shrewsberry and his coaching staff all the luck and success in the world.

He has a chance to do great things at Penn State, and everyone is excited for a consistent winner that is long overdue.

Smith, a 1971 Penn State graduate, resides in Altoona.

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