An estimated 5,751 fans were unofficially introduced to Donovon Jack in Penn State’s thrilling 80-76 overtime victory over Delaware State on Saturday.
With most patrons concentrated on each side of the lower bowl — and just a few strands behind each basket — an aerial view of the Bryce Jordan Center resembled a comb-over that would have even made Tony Kornheiser proud.
Two of those wistful strands were Ellen Cheslock and her bashful friend, who declined comment. They were the only two people in section 115 behind Penn State’s basket, but that doesn’t mean they enjoyed the game’s ebb and flow any less.
“I made the comment in the first quarter when Penn State was ahead nearly 20 points, I said ‘aw this is going to be a nice easy-going game where finally the team was leading to start the game,’” Cheslock said. “I guess the game’s not over until it’s over is it?”
The Nittany Lions (6-4) stormed out to an early 21-3 advantage before the Hornets (5-6) went on a 19-7 run that got them back in the game and later went into halftime trailing just 37-29.
The second half began much like the first with Penn State pouncing early, but getting caught late. They began the half with a 12-4 run and after a six-point flurry by Jack, it seemed the game was back in hand.
The freshman hit a 15-footer from the right corner after a deft delivery from D.J. Newbill. Then, after Jermaine Marshall beat the press and rose up for a floater in the lane, Jack was there to clean up the miss. Newbill and Jack would connect again to complete Jack’s six-pack, leaving just a Sasa Borovnjak bucket before Jack’s coup de grace.
Hemmed in by two defenders on the right baseline, Jack was seconds away from a critical turnover and an ever-steepening freshman learning curve. Instead, he turned that cliché on its ear and brought the crowd to its feet.
The sinewy southpaw spun right to avoid the trap and leapt from one side of the basket to the other for an up-and-under layup that lingered on the rim for a beat before it fell.
“Just so you know I was yelling timeout,” said Patrick Chambers after the game. “For anybody that really wants to know the truth, I was yelling timeout because I saw a freshman in a trap and we needed that possession. I was proud of him; maybe he grew up today maybe.”
Ironically, where Jack grew up such a move might not have even been possible. He went to Reading Central but before his season year the Catholic Diocese merged two schools and he finished at Berks Catholic.
The gym at Reading Central was so small that it had a stage near the baseline, and the 3-point line and the out-of-bounds line met in the corner, making threes nearly impossible to anyone without hooves. Jack’s team was forced to play its games at Alvernia College.
“Yeah the gym is really small,” Jack said back in early October. “The baseline was literally almost half a foot from the stage (and) the 3-point line didn’t end. The sidelines cut off the corner of the 3-point line. You couldn’t even tippy-toe it.”
Jack said he never had to play in that gym but watched his mother, Donna, who played Division I basketball at Manhattan College, coach in it. In fact, he comes from a family of basketball players. His father, Curt, played at Muhlenberg and his aunt, Stacy Edwards, scored 2,000 points in high school at Kutztown.
“My dad’s always given me my (basketball) advice,” Jack said. “My mom gives tips here and there but she’s more of the supportive one. (Dad’s) taught me almost everything I’ve known. From the basics, fundamentals, to little moves and stuff like that. He coached me up to sixth grade after every game he’d give me tips. If I wanted to hear it or not he still said it,” Jack said with a smile.
Cheslock also comes from an athletic family. The 65-year-old Huntingdon County resident has had season tickets since the Bryce Jordan Center opened in 1996. Her father wrestled at North Carolina State and her mother played basketball at Orbisonia high school from 1929-1932. She also had an older brother who played high school basketball.
“Yes, everybody but me,” she quipped. “I cross-country ski and do a few things like that but I never played an organized team sport.”
Her mother, Della, and her father, Charles, were loyal Penn State basketball fans who attended games into their 90s. Both passed away in 2009.
She has seen many freshmen come and go but she’s excited about Jack’s future, especially after his whirling spin move.
“That was a nice game for him. He showed a lot of potential,” Cheslock said. “It was really nice to see that one of the big guys for Penn State could make a move like that and still score. That was nice.”
Jack’s final act to earn him critical acclaim was a blocked shot resembling a volleyball spike on a driving Casey Walker with 8:13 remaining in regulation. Walker had previously haunted Penn State for 22 points but would only manage two more after the rejection, finishing with a game-high 24.
“His blocked shot,” Chambers said with pride. “(Donovon’s) one of the greatest leapers on this team. It goes Tim Frazier, him and Akosa (Maduegbunam). He can jump. So that’s going to be great for us over the next three or four years.”
“The thought that popped into my head when he did that was the Penn State player who holds the record for blocked shots,” she said, though she couldn’t recall the name. But after a few seconds of reflection – and a gentle nudge – it came.
“Calvin Booth,” she said. “Yes, that was the first thought that popped into my head, I’m thinking oh maybe they have another Calvin Booth!”
As any coach would, Chambers took a more measured approach.
“Our freshman are starting to come of age a little bit,” he said. “Are they all the way there, no, but they’re coming.”