By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two words: patience and dedication. Put those two together and you get Lady Lion senior Talia East.
The 6-foot-3 forward from Philadelphia wasn't seeing the playing time she wanted in her first two years due to injuries and veterans in front of her. In 2012-13, East began to show flashes of the player she could be and now in her final year in Happy Valley, she is a dominating force inside for the Lady Lions. Blossomed
That first word, patience, has been the key for East. It took her more time than she would have liked to crack the starting lineup on a consistent basis, but East wouldn't have it any other way because she now understands her role on the team.
"It's all about understanding what the team needs from you," said East. "As soon as you understand that and excel at your role, you're going to get a bigger role and then you look up and you're starting on a top-10 team in the nation. It was just about understanding my role and exceling at it.
East's emergence doesn't surprise her coaches and teammates because of the amount of work she put in over the summer and over the past three years. Now, she's averaging just over 20 minutes a game, 6.8 rebounds and 6.6 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor, all drastic improvements from one year ago.
"This offseason she put in a lot of work and she's a fun kid," said Washington. "Her teammates love her, her coaches love her and I'm just happy that she's having the type of senior season she is having. You want to end your career playing the best basketball you can and give everything you have to the success of the team and she's doing that."
While East said she is never satisfied with her play, she did admit it was exciting to see all of her hard work pay off and her contributions be felt on the floor as a senior captain. East's leadership has constantly been on display off the court, but she has been the main leader in Penn State's games against two of the top five teams in the country.
Against No. 1 Connecticut on Nov. 17, and against two of the better post players in the country - Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart - East thrived inside scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Similarly against No. 4 Notre Dame she again dominated the post tallying a career-high 12 points, with four rebounds and three blocks.
Those two performances continued to instill confidence in the senior and confirm how big of a role she needs to have for her team. Washington cited that as the biggest reason why East has been able to succeed in the non-conference season.
"She plays with the confidence and urgency that seniors play with," said Washington. "She's really comfortable with who she is as a basketball player and what her contributions to the team are. She's really figured out what her game is and what her contributions are and she just brings [that mentality] every night."
The way East is playing is not only important to her and to the overall success of the team, but also plays a big role in the development of the seven freshmen on the 2013-14 roster.
Washington said East is the perfect player to watch and learn from about how to be patient and grow into the player the team needs.
"I hope they [the freshmen] are paying attention," Washington said.
After a couple minutes with rookie post player Alex Harris, it is clear that they are.
Harris watches East every day in practice and thinks back to the fact that her success didn't happen overnight. It was a long three year process that brought East to this point in her career and Harris said that is a "very important lesson" for herself and fellow freshman to learn.
"It's sending a great message," said Harris. "It teaches us patience and shows that as we go on [through our careers] we will get better. From her I have learned to keep working and getting in the gym and from there you will get to your top point like Talia is in her senior year.
"Not many people have this type of opportunity and I'm grateful to be able to look up to her and see where she is and how hard she worked to get to this point."
Three years ago East was saying those words about players like Nikki Greene, whom she learned important lessons from, and now it is her turn to succeed and teach.
Nine games into the season it is safe to say her patience and dedication is paying off and setting a great example for the younger players in the program.
Penn State is back on the floor Sunday against No. 24 Texas A&M at 2 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.