After last season’s 12-20 record, Tim Frazier could only watch as 32 schools in the NIT and 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament continued their seasons, chasing dreams and showcasing their talents on college basketball’s biggest stages while he and his Nittany Lion teammates stayed home.
“A lot of those times you sit there and you’re watching that in your room,” Frazier said at the team’s annual media day on Monday at the Bryce Jordan Center. “You kinda shut your door and lock your door … and you see other guys that you’ve played against in there and you really want that feeling.”
Last year, Frazier’s list of accolades rivaled the number of protective articles he now wears on his body, an attempt to shelter his slender six-foot-one-inch, 170-pound frame.
He was voted first-team All-Big Ten by the media, selected to the Big Ten All-Defensive team, led the team in points, rebounds and assists and accounted for 58 percent of the team’s offense, playing a role similar to Allen Iverson on nearly all his Philadelphia 76ers teams (though unlike Iverson, Frazier reportedly can bench press over 300 pounds).
Yet Frazier was still at home, in his room, door locked, watching others play in post-season tournaments.
“It even brought me back to my feeling two years ago, being able to play against Temple,” Frazier said of his sophomore trip to the NCAA Tournament, a 66-64 loss to the Owls. “So I spent countless hours watching games … watching every game I (could) and watching their locker rooms … and I really want that back in my life.”
To be clear, Frazier wouldn’t give away any long-term expectations for his current team, deftly employing the party line like he employs the clever floater that tantalizes the fingertips of opposing big men.
“We’re just gonna get better each day,” Frazier said when asked about expectations. “Play Penn State basketball every day … and just play hard.”
As Penn State prepares for its Friday home opener against Saint Francis, Frazier will have some new faces and, the Nittany Lions hope, some improvement to help them expand on last season’s promising elements and maybe send Frazier off with one last post-season run.
DJ Newbill, who transferred from Southern Mississippi and had to sit out last season, could, along with Jermaine Marshall, help Frazier on the offensive end.
Marshall, who tweaked a hamstring last week, was the only other Nittany Lion to average double-digits in points last season (10.8 per game). Newbill also can get to the basket, create for others and play some point, either spelling Frazier or moving him to the wing where it’s more difficult for defenses to cordon off the paint.
Ross Travis, according to Penn State head coach, Patrick Chambers, possesses enough athleticism to guard every position on the court. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward’s versatility earned him high praise during media day.
“That’s a kid … that we’re not talking enough about,” Chambers said of Travis. “That kid is one of the most valuable players on this team next to Tim Frazier.
“I feel like he’s gonna have a big-time year,” Chambers said. "A really break out year.”
Last season, Penn State was second in the conference in offensive rebounding (11.3 per game) and Travis led the team with 57 total. Defensively, his versatility gives Chambers lineup flexibility, but offensively, Travis will have to develop a consistent jump shot to be a threat.
For a team that was 11th out of 12 in Big Ten scoring average last season (60.4 per game), shot a conference worst 39.3 percent from the field and was second-worst in 3-point shooting at 31.1 percent, any offensive help might raise expectations.
“What we’re shooting for, and you’re not gonna like my answer, is creating the best habits we can every single day,” Chambers said somewhat apologetically to reporters at his media day press conference when asked about expectations.
The remark was neither snide nor snarky. It was simply what many coaches routinely say to keep everyone in their orbit focused on the present, not projecting on the future.
“We need to be the best team that we can be by the end of the year,” Chambers said. “I felt like last year, even though we were 12-20, we were the best team that we could be. We got so much out of that team.”
Out of Penn State’s 14 Big-Ten losses last season (0-9 on the road), seven times they trailed by six points or fewer with less than 10 minutes remaining. And four of those losses came against ranked opponents (No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 12 Indiana, No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan).
Moral victories don’t exist, however.
“We did a great job, we were in a lot of games on the road … (but) we could never get over the hump,” Chambers said. “A free throw, a layup, a turnover, maybe a missed opportunity on a rebound. Just one or two plays that really decided it towards the last five or six minutes of a game.
“We need to win on the road to be successful,” Chambers said. “If we have another ‘0-for’ it’s gonna be a long season for us.”
That would make it another long off-season for Tim Frazier, his last playing college basketball, but success won’t come from getting help from his teammates.
Frazier also has been tasked by Chambers to lead them, even at times letting him run some of practice.
“Giving me the keys kind of,” Frazier said, quickly pointing out Newbill and Marshall also have leadership roles. “Letting me run practice when I know things aren’t going as well to see how I respond.
“And basically he’s just trying to say this is my team,” Frazier said. “This is our team. This is a leader’s team … and this is my last year and I want it to go out in a certain way.”