With four starters gone, Penn State does not project among the best teams in the Big Ten. But the Nittany Lions may well be the loudest bunch in the conference.
New coach Pat Chambers is focused on adding a jolt of “pure energy” into a program that was known to be a tad understated under low-key former coach Ed DeChellis. And one way Chambers is going about doing that is by encouraging a lot of talking -- or maybe that should be shouting -- during practice.
The PSU players yell out reps while stretching. They bark encouragement to one another during drills. Every pass is preceded by the passer hollering the name of the intended target.
Meanwhile, a couple of weeks into preseason practice, Chambers and his assistants are already hoarse from all of the loud talk.
“I think a quiet gym is not a good thing,” Chambers said at Penn State basketball Media Day at the Jordan Center Tuesday. “A quiet gym … I don't know if the kids are ready to play or if they're not into it or if they're worried about themselves.
“When a gym is loud and energetic and intense, they're into one another, they're into the team aspect of it,” he added.
Point guard Tim Frazier, the Nittany Lions' lone returning starter, said folks ought to pay attention to the “Pure Energy” theme that has been featured on a promotional poster and the cover of the team media guide.
“It's energy all the time -- from free throws to rebounding to toughness drills,” Frazier said. “Coach brings a lot of energy at all times. You've heard him speak. It's like energy coming out when he talks.”
But there is a practical side to Chambers, too. Since coming on board in early June, he has avoided setting specific goals beyond the Lions “being the best team we can be at the end of the year.”
He continued that tack Tuesday, acknowledging, “With a young team, you're on a roller coaster ride.” He also said, “I don't want to put any lofty goals in for a team that is just getting to know each other and just starting to build trust.”
However, he has not been afraid to set some lofty standards for the one proven Big Ten-caliber player in the program -- Frazier. At Big Ten Media Day in Chicago last week, Chambers favorably compared Frazier to several athletes he coached as an assistant at Villanova: Kyle Lowry, Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds and Randy Foye.
Tuesday he called Frazier a “freak” athlete, explaining he had an alley-oop dunk and follow dunk in a scrimmage at Temple last Saturday. And Chambers did not back away from the comparisons to the Wildcat greats.
“I'm sure people criticize me for making that assessment,” he said. “But I was with those guys every day during my tenure at Villanova and I think Tim is right up there.”
The trick will be finding capable athletes to plug in around Frazier, a task that has been made more difficult by a rash of injuries and a key suspension.
Senior shooting guard Cammeron Woodyard missed two weeks of practice after having a knee scoped and just returned to action this week. Promising freshman guard Trey Lewis has been sidelined with an ankle injury. And Southern Mississippi transfer D.J. Newbill is out with a broken shoulder (he must redshirt this year, anyway, but is allowed him to practice with the team when healthy).
Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore guard Jermaine Marshall remains suspended from the team, apparently for academic reasons. Chambers said he is in frequent contact with Marshall and that so far Marshall has been doing everything he must do to be welcomed back to the program.
In spite of the setbacks, Chambers said the attitude of the team remains positive. In his view, that is a sign of good things to come.
“There is a willingness here to change and a willingness to get better,” Chambers said. “They want to be coached and they want to be good -- not just be good but they want to win. There's a winners' mentality in this locker room that we're not going to accept losing. We need to get that mentality and keep it through thick and thin. There are gonna be rough patches. There always are. We've already sustained a few. And these guys keep coming back every day.”
And getting louder all the time.