Why do fans follow college basketball? Better yet, why do Penn State fans follow college basketball? Take a moment if you can and think about that. Maybe go to a mirror and look deep into your own eyes.
It certainly isn’t for the love of conference championships or regular trips to the NCAA Tournament. Penn State has gone to the NCAA Tournament, on average, once every ten years for the past sixty years. This past season the trip was cancelled at the last second due to a once-every-century worldwide pandemic.
So why, seriously, do we fans care to watch a team that has, for most of our lives, fallen short of the measures that would be considered success for a basketball program?
The answer to that will vary from person to person but for me it’s pretty easy. I love watching the competition on the court. I like watching players come to the program then develop into solid contributors, as Jamari Wheeler and John Harrar have over he past few years. The two seniors were an important part of one of the best teams to ever take the court in Happy Valley.
Wheeler and Harrar may play as important of a role this year in making it a viable, successful season, as the man that steps in to replace Pat Chambers.
Most fans that enjoy Penn State basketball know that it is unlikely that the team will win the Big Ten title. It is a long-shot, most years, to make the NCAA Tournament. There are other reasons that we watch and those reasons will not change based on who is coaching. The players are the heart of the team.
The coach is gone, long live the coach, so to speak. Jim Ferry went 52-15 in his final two seasons at Long Island University, guiding the Blackbirds to the NCAA Tournament in two consecutive seasons in 2011 and 2012. He will be the head coach at Penn State this season. You can call him an interim coach but that only matters for the long-term direction of the program. For this season he will be the head coach, making the decisions during the game and running the overall operations during practice and so on.
Ferry spent five seasons in western Pennsylvania at the helm of Duquesne following his stint at LIU and had been at Pat Chambers’ side since 2017 as an assistant coach. Ferry was seen as a guy that could help Chambers manage the game and at times, Chambers’ temper. He was a calming force on the bench that can easily step in to make the most of this season.
We will have to wait to see how the players on the roster react to this abrupt change. It is possible that the product on the court will not be degraded by the change in the man that sits on the throne near the scoring table. It will be up to the players and remaining coaches to settle that score.
And for the fans, those of us that will watch the team this year. Our support is as important as ever. There will be people that use this circumstance to try to drag down those of us that enjoy the sport of college basketball through the lens of Penn State but we owe it to ourselves, and to the team, to push all of that aside.
Next man up. We’ll play with the players that are on the roster for the first game and the fans that have supported the program through thick and thin will be there for them. I’ll enjoy the process as I always have, understanding what success means for this program, and that it is not the same as it may be at other universities.
Myles Dread, Myreon Jones, Seth Lundy, Jamari Wheeler and John Harrar will be a formidable starting lineup. With Izaiah Brockington and a few new faces that joined the team in the off-season, Jim Ferry will have ten players to select from to carry out his strategy.
Once the shock of the sudden change has passed we should be able to see that there is reason to be optimistic about this coming season and also the near future. The players are going to play and the haters are going to hate, we know that. The rest of us can enjoy the journey as we always have. There will be a Penn State basketball season, for that, we can all be thankful.