Penn State's basketball teams began official practice last Friday, and on the men's side in particular, the enthusiasm level amongst the fan base for such a normally quaint and low-key event has dramatically increased, thanks to having a shiny new toy in the form of Pat Chambers and his coaching staff to admire.
Today's preview will focus on the players, both returning and new. Eric will have Part II later this week, which will take a closer at Chambers and his band of merry men. You can read all about it after the jump...
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN (Returning Players)
Tim Frazier (Junior, Guard) – With Talor Battle having taken his man-crushing talents to France, Frazier becomes the de facto leader of the pack. Towards the end of last season, particularly around Big Ten Tournament time, Frazier flipped a switch that turned him into more than just a speedy guy who dishes out assists. Frazier in fact, became a scoring threat. Perhaps no other game illustrated Frazier’s breakout sophomore season than his 22-point 8-rebound and 5-assist performance against Michigan State that helped solidify PSU’s first NCAA Tournament bid in a decade.
Cam Woodyard (Senior, Guard) – A key player off the bench the last couple of years, Woodyard should end up in a starting role at the very least, to start the season. Whether he maintains his starting spot depends on how much Trey Lewis and Matt Glover push him for playing time. Make no mistake however, as the lone senior on this roster, Woodyard will be expected to take on a full-fledged leadership role on the team, a critical aspect that many young teams seem to lack.
Billy Oliver (RS Soph, Forward) - Say what you will about his performance on the court (which let's face it: it leaves quite a bit to be desired), but there is absolutely no questioning his attitude and resolve. A lot of players may have called it a career after suffering multiple concussions and chronic exercise-induced headaches. Not Billy Oliver. He is the type of player Pat Chambers would single out as a source of inspiration for anyone else on the team facing adversity of their own.
Jermaine Marshall (RS Soph, Guard) – Had his moments off the bench last season, but look for him to be thrust into a starting role as well this year...if he actually plays this year. Reports from official practice yesterday said that Marshall was not practicing with the team. No reason was given, but let's hope that whatever the reason for his absence, it is resolved soon enough, because his athleticism and ball-handling really seemed to be coming together towards the end of last season.
Sasa Borovnjak (RS Soph, Forward) - The Serbian forward who played high school ball in North Carolina was forced to redshirt after tearing his ACL during the first day of official practice last year. According to recent practice reports, it appears as if he used the time away from the court to bulk up. Thus far, he's made it through at least a couple practices unscathed (baby steps, folks), and if he can remain healthy, could end up being a surprise contributor to the team.
Jonathan Graham (RS Frosh, Forward) - Was redshirted last season by Ed DeChellis' staff, feeling that he needed a year in the weight room to add some muscle to his frame, as well as get accustomed to D1 basketball. Based on practice reports thus far, it sounds like that redshirt year is paying dividends for Graham. This would be especially great news for a team that desperately needs quality post players the same way Craig James needs dead hookers (#RIP5DH).
Nick Colella (Jr, Guard) – A walk-on last season from a Penn State branch campus, Colella is one of those players you virtually never see show up on a box score or in an actual game (unless it’s in garbage time). However, people such as him are critical when it comes to being a practice player who can perhaps mimic the opponent’s best guard and push the starters in practice. Yes, it’s people like Colella who are highly underappreciated, as he certainly could have gone on to D3 stardom, but instead chose to work his ass off for a D1 program where he will never see meaningful minutes. The ultimate example of sacrifice.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK (Incoming Players)
Pat Ackerman (Fr, Forward/Center) – At 6’11” and only 220 pounds, he will likely take a redshirt this year in order to build strength and add some muscle to his skinny frame. Obviously, the coaching staff is hoping this will turn him into a contributor a couple of years from now.
Peter Alexis (Fr, Forward/Center) - Also 6'11" but unlike Ackerman, Alexis has a Big Ten-ready body at 260 pounds. According to scouting reports, he is a great back to the basket player and plays well on the low blocks. Much like most 6'11" types to have recently come through Happy Valley, he is not much of a shot blocker. Nonetheless, Alexis could potentially work his way into a critical frontcourt player who can spell for a starter for a few minutes.
Matt Glover (So, Guard) – A JUCO transfer who played at his freshman year at Sheridan Community College in Wyoming, the California native brings a “Big Ten ready body” to the roster. His numbers from last year aren’t the most eye-popping for the level of competition he went up against (11.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game), but such a stat line shows that he is a player with versatility, one who can rebound, dish, and pitch in with scoring when needed to.
Trey Lewis (Freshman, Guard) – A runner-up for Ohio’s Mr. Basketball award (which ironically, went to former PSU commit Trey Burke, now at Michigan), Lewis will likely start out as the first person off the bench until he gets accustomed to the rigors of Division 1 college basketball. In his case, it may not take all that long for him to do so. As a high school senior, Lewis shot an astounding 48% from 3-point range and 51% from the floor to go with a 78% free throw rate on his way to being named Ohio’s Division 1 high school player of the year. In fact, we have some footage from one of his performances. Look for Lewis' athleticism and shooting abilities to land him a permanent starting spot sooner rather than later.
Kevin Montminy (Freshman, Guard) – See: Nick Colella. A local kid from nearby Penns Valley High School, look for Kevin to be another one of those critical practice bodies for the team.
D.J. Newbill (Soph, Guard) – A transfer from Southern Mississippi by way of Philadelphia. This means that if you want to argue semantics, you can claim that Pat Chambers has finally broken into Philly for recruiting. Newbill racked up six double-doubles and led Southern Miss in rebounding in 15 games last season. Newbill will be expected to be a key contributor from Day One but In the meantime, he will anchor the practice squad this season before becoming eligible to play next year.
Ross Travis (Freshman, Forward) - Plucked from Tubby Smith's backyard, the Minnesota native brings athleticism, solid passing skills, and scoring ability which will be on full display when he is one of the first guys off the bench.
Alan Wisniewski (RS Freshman, Forward) – Once again, read up on Nick Colella. No relation to Stefen Wisniewski.