Penn State's Chambers Restoring the Roar? Let’s Hope So.

Penn State's Chambers Restoring the Roar? Let’s Hope So.

Believe it or not, there was a point in time in the annals of college basketball  width=history where the Penn State Nittany Lions were a relevant basketball team. In the 1950s, Penn State strung together 3 NCAA tournament appearances in 4 years. They even earned a trip to the 1954 Final Four. It took the powerhouse La Salle Explorers, led by All-American Forward Tom Gola who almost 60 years later still owns the Division 1 record for total rebounds, to stop them from winning the title.

Now, to show my appreciation for the readers who were able to endure that boring history lesson and make it to the second paragraph, let’s skip ahead to the 21st century. Unfortunately, the present has been a time of turmoil and fluctuation for Penn State basketball. The only thing constant about Penn State lately is finding them on the second page of the Big Ten standings. The Lions have not finished in the top 5 of the Big Ten since the 2008-09 season. They have not so much as reached a Sweet Sixteen since 2000-01.

Abysmal stretches like this should not be tolerated at such a proud and prestigious school. However, PSU men’s basketball cannot move forward until it fixes its single most important issue: culture. The overwhelming majority of students, faculty, and staff do little to acknowledge that there is even a basketball program to care about. Think about it, PSU’s last head coach left State College to take what he believed to be a better job at Navy (yes, they do play basketball at Navy... I think). The Bryce Jordan Center gets more admission for concerts than for basketball games. Even more disturbing is fact that Penn State finished in 12th place in the Big 10 last season (a finish so poor it defies logic). Just for fun, I did some digging and found that the Lions even rank below the University of Chicago in all-time Big Ten wins and winning percentage. Just in case that doesn’t sting enough, the University of Chicago is nicknamed ‘the Maroons’, and no longer have a Division 1 basketball program.

 width=I know the majority of this article has been a rather desolate look upon the men’s basketball program, but there is a bright side to this whole situation. Penn State has a new, young enthusiastic head coach in Pat Chambers who not only has lots of experience as a top assistant at Villanova, but also knows what it takes to turn around a non-traditional basketball program. It took Chambers just two years at Boston University to get the Terriers to their first NCAA tournament berth in almost a decade. Now, Chambers brings his tough-minded, defensive oriented scheme to State College. Sure, he struggled a bit in his first campaign with the Lions (12-20, 4-14 Big Ten), but he needs time to recruit his players for his system. It should be mentioned that Chambers has built up a reputation as a very strong recruiter (especially in the Philly area) and has been strongly endorsed by Villanova head coach Jay Wright whom Chambers worked under from 2005-2008. This will be his first full offseason as the head coach, so it is only now that he will start to make his imprint on the program.

More importantly, Pat Chambers really seems to get it. Penn State’s record wasn’t great last year, but there were numerous games that his team was very close to pulling out. This was a team that fought until the final buzzer and possessed an energy level that was fun to watch. He knows that the only way to combat this culture of accepting losing is by working hard in practice and getting his team to improve little by little, day in and day out. And I think once he can start to stem the losing tide, the fans will realize the change and start to rally behind Chambers and this hardnosed bunch.

I’m not saying that Chambers’ goal should be to bring back the ‘50s, because that’s unrealistic. But Penn State Basketball is a program with vast resources and one that is not all that far from Chamber’s recruiting wheelhouse. If PSU can land an elite recruit or two in the near future, it is not unreasonable to think that this program can begin its transformation from a perennial cellar dweller into a Big Ten contender and NCAA Tournament regular.

Projected 2012-13 Starting Lineup:
G- Tim Frazier (SR)* 6’1, 170 lbs
G- Jermaine Marshall (JR)* 6’4, 205 lbs
G- D.J. Newbill (SO) 6’4, 205 lbs
F- Ross Travis (SO) 6’6, 225 lbs
F- Jon Graham (SO)* 6’8, 220 lbs

*Returning Starter