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April 18, 2014
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion basketball team's 2013-'14 season was marked by individual and collective progress.
While head coach Patrick Chambers and the players on the roster would be the first to tell you that they had hoped to win more games last season, the foundation laid and steps forward have given the squad a great deal of optimism as preparations for 2014-'15 begin.
The program moves forward without Tim Frazier, who graduates following a decorated career in Blue and White, but the Lions return one of the Big Ten's elite players in all-conference guard D.J. Newbill.
Following a tremendous junior campaign, the Philadelphia native will head into the fall as the conference's second-leading returning scorer. After tweaking his shot mechanics during the offseason, Newbill set career-highs in field goal (45 percent) and three-point (33 percent) percentages. Newbill's 17.8 points per game mark was second only to Nebraska's Terran Petteway.
"I definitely didn't achieve the goals I wanted to achieve, team-wise and record-wise," Newbill said. "But there were so many close games, and we just have to learn from them. We have to work harder than we did last year. That's my mindset going into this offseason. We worked hard last year, now, we've got to work even harder."
A dynamic player with a tenacious attitude, Newbill is again primed for a big offseason and another step forward on the floor in 2014-'15. He had 10 20-point games last season, including six in Big Ten games. Among the conference's most complete scorers, Newbill will play a central role in Penn State's success next season.
"Our team chemistry was good, but it can get a lot better," Newbill said. "Our defense needs to improve and we need to hit shots. We need to have guys continuously getting into the gym and working on their jump shots. That helps you shoot with confidence, and that is going to help us next year."
Collectively, the Nittany Lions return 78 percent of their scoring and 77 percent of their rebounds from last season in Newbill, Brandon Taylor, Ross Travis, Donovon Jack, John Johnson, Geno Thorpe, Jordan Dickerson, Julian Moore, Alan Wisniewski and Kevin Montminy. Redshirt freshman Payton Banks will debut for Penn State in the fall. Additionally, Penn State welcomes second-team JUCO All-American Devin Foster to the rotation and true freshmen Shep Garner and Isaiah Washington.
"It's repetition. We're youthful," Chambers said. "I think with every passing year, everything slows down a little bit, especially for guys like John Johnson, Jordan Dickerson, Geno Thorpe. I think the pace of the game will slow down. I think that's when you're going to see shots go down. Plus, with experience, I think you'll start to see shots go down. We're going to have seniors and juniors next year, which is exciting."
The Lions are on the brink of a breakout season after finishing with 16-18 overall mark and a 6-12 record in the Big Ten. Penn State lost eight games by five or fewer points in 2013-'14, including four during Big Ten play. The Lions' 16 wins reached a mark topped just three times this millennium.
Penn State won five road games, including three in Big Ten play, marking the most since the 2008-'09 season when they won six. Penn State swept Ohio State for the first time since 1998, becoming the second team to beat the Buckeyes twice in the regular season in the last five years (Michigan State is the only other team).
"It takes time, and we all have to be patient, but I don't know if we were appreciated for what we did," Chambers said. "Not me, the players. I don't know that they were appreciated for how hard they competed on a nightly basis. Every game, other than a few, I felt like they competed to the best of their ability. To be sitting here again, 15-16 wins, is a great jump up from where we were."
Now, the Nittany Lions are looking to take the next step with another strong offseason of development in the practice gym from everyone on the roster. Expectations are high for Chambers and the Lions as they continue the building process leading up to the 2014-'15 season.