UNIVERSITY PARK — In Patrick Chambers’ first two seasons at Penn State, he used a lot of time and basically all of his voice in an effort to have players buy what he was selling.
He was expecting defense, hustle, rebounding, and grittiness, but Chambers said he doesn’t have to remind his team of them as often anymore. The third-year coach’s voice wasn’t even very raspy as the team hosted its annual Media Day on Thursday.
With less attention on some of the smaller things compared to other years, Chambers and his team have spent more early-season practice time on an the Nittany Lions struggled mightily with last season — offense.
“The last two years, it was all about the culture, the environment, the defending, the rebounding, the toughness drills,” Chambers said. “We have that instilled, it’s there. Now, we have to take the next step in our offense. Our offense was always a little bit behind, it didn’t pick up until January, for my liking anyway. Now, it’s at a whole other level.”
Granted, star point guard Tim Frazier was lost for the season when he tore his left Achilles tendon in the team’s fourth game, but Penn State averaged a modest 61.6 points per game and shot just 39.5 percent from the floor — a mark that ranked 324th in the NCAA — in a 10-21 campaign.
Much of the offense will be in the hands of Frazier and guard D.J. Newbill, who averaged 16.3 points per game and ran the point in Frazier’s absence. But it’s likely some games will come down to how the other players around Frazier and Newbill are able to shoot, especially if the two guards garner a lot of attention.
The Lions had a dismal 29.6 percent 3-point percentage last season, but Chambers said he feels there are players on his team who can knock down the long ball. The coach mentioned forwards Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack, as well as freshman guard Graham Woodward as potential 3-point threats, and noted Miami (Ohio) transfer Allen Roberts is currently the team’s best jump shooter.
“I want to increase that field goal percentage,” said Roberts, who is eligible this season. “I’ll try my best to get guys open and make things easier for guys instead of guys having to take tougher shots.”
Seven new names grace the Penn State roster this season — four of which are freshman, while the team also added three transfers.
Joining Roberts in the transfer category are guard John Johnson and 7-footer Jordan Dickerson.
Johnson enrolled at Penn State last year after a season at Pittsburgh, and will be available after the end of the fall semester. Johnson averaged 4.2 points per game two seasons ago as a freshman, and Chambers said he plans to use him when he’s eligible starting Dec. 22 against Mount St. Mary’s.
Dickerson, on the other hand, will have to sit out the entire 2013-14 season.
Penn State will be trying to fill the void of four transfers the team lost in Pat Ackerman, Akosa Maduegbunam, Jon Graham and most notably Jermaine Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game last season.
Chambers’ second full recruiting class features Woodward, guard Geno Thorpe, swingman Payton Banks and forward Julian Moore. The coach noted he thought his freshmen were aided by Penn State’s summer European tour, which allowed the team to have 10 extra practices and play three games.
“You’ve got the eight weeks in the summer and the foreign tour, they’re well ahead of a lot of colleges out there as far as knowing our drills and what we expect, and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish that day in practice,” Chambers said of his freshmen.
Check yourself, before you foul out
With new rules in place, NCAA referees will be cracking down on hand checks this season. And with a guard-heavy team, Chambers thinks it’s beneficial for his squad.
“Tim Frazier should lead the Big Ten in free throw attempts this year,” Chambers said. “D.J. Newbill should be right behind. I think (the new rules) should help us.”
Frazier agreed with his coach, noting it should result in more trips to the charity stripe. But he brought up the flipside of the rule, saying he may be hearing extra whistles on defense.
“I’m an eager guy and I like to go for the steal,” Frazier said. “So that definitely will make me be disciplined not to reach and not to put my hands on guys and not force them certain ways.”
Chambers said he’s had his team doing “old-school towel drills” at practice, which features players holding onto a towel around their necks rather than using their hands when playing defense. He’ll find out if those drills pay off when the Nittany Lions open their season with Wagner on Nov. 9 at the Bryce Jordan Center.