If the Penn State men’s basketball team wants to reach the NCAA tournament this season, it might want to take a team-chemistry lesson from the Crispin brothers — and head straight for the bowling alley.
Jon Crispin, who was part of the Nittany Lions’ 2001 run to the Sweet 16, recalled how his teammates used to pick teams and seed players when they went bowling. “Sadly, it was pretty serious,” said Crispin, who was playing Friday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament at the Penn State Golf Courses. Sometimes, they’d have 30 people, including football players and women’s volleyball players.
That kind of chemistry, that bond, was a “huge part” of the Nittany Lions’ success, Crispin said.
“No one does what we did anymore,” he added. “We had a routine like, ‘All right, instead of going out on a Friday night, we’re going to go to Hoss’s, we’re going to eat a ton of food and then we’re going to go bowling for two hours.’”
The Nittany Lions last reached the NCAA tournament in 2011, which was their first appearance since the Sweet 16 run in 2001. But with an influx last season of young talent — Mike Watkins, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens were all coveted four-star prospects — ability is no longer the issue. Joe Crispin, who was the leading scorer on the 2001 team, noted that those young players just need to learn through experience. Former Penn State coach Jerry Dunn watched some games on television last year and saw the Nittany Lions’ talent.
“I know the word ‘process’ is mentioned a lot, but there is a process,” said Dunn, who was Penn State’s head coach from 1995-2003. “There’s a maturation process and a toughness process that young guys have to go through because they’ve never experienced that at this level. The Big Ten is grueling.
“I really think that they’re poised to do some good things.”
Team chemistry is an often-overlooked attribute in the grand scheme of a season. But this current team doesn’t have much to lose if it decided to throw some strikes and pick up some spares. After all, Jon Crispin said, the conference is “wide open.”
Jon, who now serves as an analyst for Big Ten Network, said Michigan State is a “top-5, Final Four-level team” with the return of Miles Bridges, and he mentioned Purdue and Northwestern as top teams behind the Spartans. But from there?
“Penn State could slide anywhere in that mix,” Jon said.
Carr, Watkins and Stevens showed their potential in their first season for the Nittany Lions, who tied for 12th in the Big Ten. They form the strong young core for a group that learned from the losses during a 15-18 season. Jon Crispin said early in the season, the Nittany Lions didn’t realize how hard they had to play in some setbacks. Later in the season, they didn’t realize they had to make each other better to win at a high level.
The 2001 Nittany Lions recorded the program’s last NCAA tournament win during their run to the Sweet 16. It was fueled by the team’s belief and confidence — and the bowling didn’t hurt, either.
“I think the biggest thing that is impossible to overestimate, though, is we had incredible team character,” Joe said. “We had confidence. We believed we should win. We believed we underachieved. At the end of the day, we thought we underachieved, not overachieved.”
That was the mentality of that group. For the current Nittany Lions to finish in league’s top eight this season, Jon Crispin said they’ll need to push each other to improve.
“It’s something I never knew when I was playing, but I wish I did,” Jon said. “If you buy into making one another better, you’ll reach your potential.”
Coaches vs. Cancer
Jerry Dunn expressed his appreciation for seeing the commitment of coach Patrick Chambers and the community to Penn State’s Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament on Friday.
Dunn was Penn State’s head coach when the golf tournament started in 1997, and he’s seen the benefits of the organization’s efforts firsthand.
“My daughter had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year and she’s doing great,” Dunn said. “So I know the benefits that Coaches vs. Cancer has created. I want to continue to be as much help as I possibly can.”
Dunn and his predecessor, Bruce Parkhill were joined by former players at the Penn State Golf Courses on Friday. The players and coaches reconnect while keeping in mind the cause that brought them together.
“I think it’s a rallying cry a little bit because we all get together and we know that this is the premier event of the year, and we know that most of the finances are staying right here,” Chambers said Thursday. “I just think that’s important. It’s not going outside this county. Most of it’s going to stay right here to help your neighbor, to help that business or that person that you go in and you get your coffee from.
“We got to start giving back to the people that we love and we care about and we can do it right here.”