We didn't know how long we would have to patiently wait for this program to recover from the aftershock that was the graduation of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson, and Drew Jones. After two consecutive last-place finishes that can graciously be defined as losing with attitude, it looks as if the storm is finally breaking. With the worst of the rebuilding phase in the rear view, it is time to take Penn State basketball seriously again.
The expectations will start to rise for Pat Chambers' program in year number three, but there's one domineering predicament that needs to be resolved sooner than later, as the Lions begin a critical offseason. Which current or incoming player will not be in a Penn State uniform next year?
There's an underlying pressure on the team to take advantage of the grand opportunity that arose from what was once considered a devastating injury. Anybody else in the conference adding a 1st-team All-Big Ten caliber talent to their roster next season? One with over 1,500 minutes of Big Ten experience at the most important position on the floor?
But the sport of basketball surely is much more than one player, and how Pat Chambers addresses (or has addressed) his scholarship crunch has a substantial impact on the potential of the 2013-2014 team. Before today's season-ending press conference, here is how the current scholarship matrix shakes out:
|1||Tim Frazier||DJ Newbill||Brandon Taylor||Geno Thorpe|
|2||Jermaine Marshall||John Johnson||Donovon Jack||Julian Moore|
|3||DJ Newbill||Ross Travis||Akosa Maduegbunam||Payton Banks|
|4||John Johnson*||Jon Graham||Geno Thorpe||Graham Woodward|
|5||Ross Travis||Pat Ackerman||Julian Moore||Isaiah Washington|
|6||Jon Graham||Brandon Taylor||Payton Banks|
|7||Pat Ackerman||Donovon Jack||Graham Woodward|
|8||Brandon Taylor||Akosa Maduegbunam||Isaiah Washington|
|9||Donovon Jack||Geno Thorpe|
|10||Akosa Maduegbunam||Julian Moore|
|11||Geno Thorpe||Payton Banks|
|12||Julian Moore||Graham Woodward|
|13||Payton Banks||Isaiah Washington|
*Eligible at the conclusion of the 2013 Fall semester
Instead of looking to fill roster spots like last spring, Penn State now has sold too many tickets to next year's show. It's important to note that John Johnson's transfer was orchestrated during the season, a few weeks after Frazier's ruptured achilles was going to sideline him for the year. It's entirely possible Chambers has had this situation under control all along.
But what's been an unfortunate casualty of this whole bind has been Sasa Borovnjak. It was mutually decided before the season that the Serbian would be playing his last season at Penn State. However, after witnessing his breakout play in February that was a vital component to the offense's late revival, it's especially tough to watch the only viable, experienced post player leave the program with eligibility remaining. Without any roster spots available, PSU can't make a case to at least reconsider the decision.
Even with Borovnjak heading out, the program still has one too many scholarship players. This can be worked out a few ways. Another 5th-year senior could move on with their degree, which could apply to Frazier and Marshall if they do graduate, but Penn State anticipates both players returning next season. One of the four incoming freshman who have already signed their LOI could be asked to spend next year at prep school, but there has been no indication that this is an option for any of them. Lastly, there's the simpler solution - a current player will transfer out.
Penn State has seen 20 scholarship players depart early from State College in the past 10 years, so this wouldn't be anything new. But the unexpected loss of a key contributor(s) has crippled this program time and again. It might seem safe to assume one of the deep reserves will leave for more playing time elsewhere, but history has shown that is not always the easy answer people make it out to be.
Hopefully the explanation to this potentially toxic situation reveals itself as early as this afternoon and the repercussions aren't too severe. Chambers and his staff have worked tirelessly on the recruiting trail to assemble an exciting group of players with potential to make a move up the Big Ten ladder. However, when you know one of the pieces is on his way out, there's a sense of paranoia regarding who the mystery transfer is. Too many times in the past it has been a talented member of a program ill-equipped to lose one of its better players.
The Lions certainly can't afford to lose one of them now. There's already been too much 'what could have been' around the program lately.