Saint Francis' Rob Krimmel is coming home to make his college head coaching debut.
The former State College High School standout will lead the Red Flash against Penn State, which embarks on its second season under Patrick Chambers, at 7 p.m,. tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“To get my first coaching opportunity in my hometown,” Krimmel said. “I don’t think that it’ll actually hit me until I stand up on the sideline and the game begins.”
Krimmel’s Centre County ties are generational.
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Before he played at Saint Francis, Krimmel led State College High School to the PIAA Elite 8 in 1996 and left as the Little Lions' second leading scorer in history behind 1978 graduate Chris Dodds.
His brother, Ken, who was also a Little Lion, led the state in scoring his senior year (24.6 per game) and went on to play for Penn State.
Rob's father and current Saint Francis athletic director, Bob Krimmel, was a Penn State swimmer who graduated in 1973, earned his masters in 1974 and returned to become a successful women’s swimming and diving coach. His 32 years with Penn State athletics also included time as assistant athletic director.
Krimmel’s mother Sharon also worked in Penn State’s department of kinesiology for 35 years.
“I’m sure there’ll be a contingent of State College people that come out and support the Nittany Lions,” Krimmel said. “(So) it’ll be a chance to visit with some friends.”
It will be Penn State’s 117th season of men’s basketball and the first meeting between the schools since 2007.
The strength of both teams comes from their guards. The night’s most intriguing matchup is between Penn State’s All-Big Ten point guard, Tim Frazie, and Red Flash point guard Umar Shannon.
The Red Flash junior scored 26 points against Shaka Smart’s defensive-minded Virginia Commonwealth squad in the first game of last season, but unfortunately for Shannon and the Red Flash he tore his ACL late in that game.
Krimmel expects Shannon to play tonigh but isn’t sure how much.
“He’s doing a great job for us in practice both as a leader and as a player,” Krimmel said. “I want too make sure that I don’t get greedy and throw him into a situation until he’s ready. He’s progressing. We expect him to contribute big things for us this year and I’m looking forward to getting him back on the court.”
Krimmel describes Shannon as a tough kid who can really score, but said his return would be a “process.” Doctors have cleared him to play and believe the knee is strong. But developing confidence in the knee takes time Krimmel said.
Even with Shannon at 100 percent, the Red Flash needs a team effort against the sudden and darting moves of Frazier, who was just named to the Wooden Award Men’s Preseason Top 50 and needs just 30 points to become the 30th 1,000-point scorer in Penn State history.
“In transition, Frazier’s so fast end-to-end when he gets the ball. He’s gone in a few seconds,” Krimmel said. “It’s not going to be a one man operation for us to try and stop him.”
Enter D.J. Newbill. Penn State will unveil its talented transfer from Southern Mississippi for the first time in regular season play. He sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.
Last season, Frazier was so adept at perforating defenses that opposing coaches would pack the paint and force others to make shots. Newbill not only adds another shotmaker but he could be another facilitator as well.
The 6-foot-4-redshirt sophomore can penetrate and finish with strength at the rim, absorbing contact with his 205-pound frame. He also possesses elite-level ball handling. He skillfully played point guard in the second half of last week’s exhibition romp against Division II Philadelphia University. It's a position Chambers said after the game that Newbill will see more of.
“I think the backcourt combination of Newbill and Frazier with their speed, their scoring ability and D.J.’s size, it’s going to be a tough combination for our guys to deal with over the course of a 40 minute game because they do a lot of things really well.” Krimmel said.
“Tim is obviously the head of that snake and sets others up,” Krimmel said. “But then having a backcourt mate that can take some of that pressure off in terms of his ability to score the ball and to get out in transition and make plays (makes them even more dangerous).”
Junior guard Jermaine Marshall will also be called upon to help with the Penn State scoring load. Marshall is the team’s lone double-digit scorer (10.8) from last season.
Both teams have question marks in the frontcourt coming into the season.
Penn State’s Ross Travis drew high praise from Chambers at the team’s annual media day this week, saying his sophomore forward could have “a breakout year.” And sophomore forward Jon Graham is coming off a 16-point, seven-rebound performance against Philadelphia last week.
In the preseason Chambers said the key for success this season would be an improvement in the play of his big men. Last season, Penn State ranked near the bottom in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding yet were tops on the offensive end.
Saint Francis lost their most productive big man from last season when Scott Eatherton transferred to Northeastern. He averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds last season, scoring in double figures in 22 of 29 games and posting six double-doubles.
“Our bigs as a unit are relatively young,” Krimmel said. “Each can bring something new to the table to help us but we have two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior and senior that really haven’t seen a ton of minutes in their time here.”
Krimmel will need his big men to grow up quickly to have a successful rookie-coaching season.
He took over after the April resignation of former head coach Don Friday, whose record over his four seasons with the Red Flash was 32-86. Friday has since been hired as an assistant coach at Susquehanna University.
Even though Krimmel played at Saint Francis and spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach, some raised questions of nepotism when his father chose him as the new Red Flash head coach.
“Saint Francis is a great place,” Krimmel said. “The support on campus and from our alumni has been tremendous … and I know that there are certain people that may have commented on that situation.”
“I don’t apologize one minute for being able to work a few doors down from my father, a person that I admire as a professional, that I admire as a father,” Krimmel said. “I consider myself one of the luckiest men in the country, one of the luckiest coaches in the country to be able to learn from (him) in all aspects.”
“(But) now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on it I understand it, it’s a part of the coaching world,” Krimmel said. “But the people that really understand what Saint Francis is about and the people that are a part of this great community (have) been tremendous in this transition and have helped me grow not just as a student here and as an assistant but now as a head coach. And it’s been a great start to being a head coach.”