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Dec. 6, 2012
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's clash with La Salle on Wednesday night in The Palestra had a feel every college basketball game should have.
Playing an intra-state foe in a historic structure with close-to-the-court seating like The Palestra lends itself to a great atmosphere, alone, but Wednesday's trip to Philadelphia fits the mold of head coach Patrick Chambers' vision of Nittany Lion basketball to a T.
"I want to be a part of this. I want to play Philadelphia teams," Chambers said. "It can only help us. My big thing is that we have to get prepared for the Big Ten. Win or lose, it doesn't matter - prepare yourself for the Big Ten. And these are great teams."
On the surface, it's great for the Nittany Lions to play intra-state teams for rivalries and fan interest. Wednesday night's crowd was roughly 4,500 people inside The Palestra, but it was loud, often hard to hear the person next to you, from start to finish. And it was fairly well balanced between La Salle fans and Penn State supporters.
"It was a great atmosphere for basketball - even on both sides," Philadelphia native D.J. Newbill said. "You couldn't hear anything. It felt like a packed house, just like we expected."
Chambers wants to play in places Penn State fans can watch the Nittany Lions. That's why the men's hoops team will play in several Pennsylvania locations on a regular basis, including Pittsburgh and at Bucknell next year, not to mention a return to Philadelphia annually.
A Philadelphia native with roots of attending Big 5 games in The Palestra, Chambers bleeds Philly basketball. Wednesday was his first time as a head coach in The Palestra. Despite the outcome on Wednesday night, he loved every minute of the experience. He took the team around the building to show them the rich history of great players and teams who have competed in The Palestra since it opened in 1927.
"We have to be here," Chambers said after the game on Wednesday. "That's why I took my team around to show them the corridors to show them the history of the Big 5 and what Philadelphia basketball is all about."
In addition to the general local interest, playing games in Philadelphia will pay huge dividends for the Nittany Lions in recruiting. Penn State has a trio of players already on the roster with Philadelphia ties, and many more will follow. Having a recruiting base in Philly is essential Chambers' eyes, and playing in town regularly only helps the process.
Penn State's setback to La Salle was one of what will be many trips Nittany Lion basketball will make to Philadelphia during the tenure of Coach Chambers in Happy Valley. And anyone in the building on Wednesday night would tell you, get tickets for next season's trip to Chambers' home turf to be a part of a great road atmosphere for Nittany Lion basketball.
"I love it. I can't wait to play back here next year - a lot of fun," Chambers said.