UNIVERSITY PARK — D.J. Newbill caught the ball on the wing and used a ball screen in Penn State’s practice last week as Tim Frazier defended and anticipated the maneuver.
When Newbill reversed course, Frazier was there again. The result was a collision of heads that drew blood from both and ended with 12 stitches for Frazier and 16 for Newbill.
After Penn State departs for its European tour on Saturday, head coach Pat Chambers will finally see his new team against an unfamiliar opponent.
“You want to see what it looks like,” Chambers said. “And I know these guys are tired of beating each other up these last few months. It’s going to be great to play against somebody else.”
Monday, The Nittany Lions play Okapi Aalstar, a Belgian first division team with former Gonzaga guard Derek Raivio, former Kansas guard Travis Releford and former West Virginia forward Da’Sean Butler, a second-round pick in 2010 of the Miami Heat before knee injuries scuttled his career.
Penn State faces St. Jan Antwerpen of Belgium’s second division on Wednesday and finishes play Thursday against Binnenland, an All-Dutch second division team.
The Nittany Lions will be based in Mechelen, Belgium outside of Brussels and will make day trips to Paris and London before returning stateside Saturday, Aug. 17.
While the trip should yield high-level competition against seasoned professionals, Chambers isn’t putting much stock into final scores because he will experiment with lineups and focus on teaching.
“I might not be coaching the score all the time,” said Chambers, who will enter his third year as head coach. “I might just be coaching the players and helping them get better over these next eight days.”
The team was allotted 10 practices in preparation for the tour, which Chambers said benefited a squad that added six new faces in the offseason and needs to acclimate to an older one in Frazier.
Frazier working his way back
After rupturing his left Achilles tendon in November, Frazier is back for his final season.
Frazier hasn’t been restricted in any team activities and said he feels 100 percent. Chambers however, estimated his point guard is about 80-90 percent back mentally.
“I would say that’s accurate,” Frazier said. “And that’s fine with me. I’d rather hit 100 percent in the Big Ten season when it really counts or in the non-conference.”
Frazier, who accounted for 58 percent of the offense in 2011-12, led the Big Ten in assists (6.2) and finished second in scoring (18.2), said his vertical leap has returned along with his ability to change directions quickly. The confidence to execute moves that once came naturally, he said, will come.
For now, he’s just looking forward to the trip and not tying its significance to the coming season.
“I was out for nine months and this is just a time to be able to just enjoy the game of basketball, enjoy the cities, enjoy the countries we’re going to see, and at the same (time) just go out there and try to win and be the best team we can be,” he said.
Mixing business and culture
With the Nittany Lions day-tripping to Paris and London, staying focused on basketball could prove challenging. Chambers will give his team the freedom to travel in packs and explore on their own, but will also structure trips as a group.
“We’re going to have to balance it well,” said Brandon Taylor. “We want it to be kind of a vacation, but we also want it to be business as well. We don’t want to go out there and use it just to see the Eiffel Tower or something. We want to go out there and win and show people we mean business.”
Taylor, who will be a sophomore, shot well from the perimeter early last season before slumping during conference play. At 6-foot-7, 235-pounds, he was overpowered by bigger, stronger forwards in the Big Ten. In Europe, Taylor’s likely to see the same.
His offseason has been dedicated to strengthening his lower half to fight for position down low, something he wants to add to his game.
“Now it’s just trying to expand my game and not just being a shooter, (but) to be an all-around player.”
Frazier and returning junior Ross Travis have never been to Europe, but both have been to Mexico. Chambers, has also never been, but has traveled to Argentina and Africa.
Frazier appreciates the immediate chance to explore new places, but also spoke to the trips lasting significance.
“It’s just going to be a great opportunity that you’ll be able to look back and tell your kids and tell guys down the line just the same way as when we play in Rec Hall,” he said. “It’ll be one of those things, one of those moments that you always keep and this team will always cherish…”
Freshmen Payton Banks, Graham Woodward and Julian Moore will make the trip and earn quality experience against European professionals. But, freshmen aren’t likely to be relied upon during the regular season.
Graduate student transfer Allen Roberts could be however. Roberts, who led Miami University (Ohio) in scoring last season (12.3), will need to fill the void left by Jermaine Marshall, who left the program and ultimately landed at Arizona State.
“This is going to be great for Allen,” Chambers said. “He’s got one year with us. He’s ahead of the curve now versus all the other fifth-year guys that are out there.”
Penn State also added Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson last season and Jordan Dickerson, who transferred from Southern Methodist. Neither will make the trip. Johnson isn’t eligible until the conclusion of the fall semester. Dickerson, a 7-foot, 240-pound center, is the tallest Nittany Lion since 7-footer Jan Jagla (2002-04) and must sit out a full season per NCAA transfer rules.