As Patrick Chambers tried to put his first three years leading the Penn State men’s basketball program into perspective, the coach explained it’s been a process.
Chambers then caught himself before finishing a thought he’s relayed time and again. He said he hates to keep saying it, but he believes the program is headed in the right direction.
“I feel like as a program, the guys are a little bit older now, a little bit older,” Chambers said Tuesday’s during the team’s annual preseason media day. “We’ve got some seniors and juniors, which is exciting. We’ve got a good mixture of veterans and youth and I think we have a great understanding of what our approach is in practice, our approach is for games, our approach is for anything that we do. And that takes a long time to put together.
“Is it where I really want it to be? No. There’s still so much growth to go. But it’s getting there, it’s getting there. Guys are holding each other accountable.”
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With that experience and leadership, Chambers said he wants to see his team take the next step.
The Nittany Lions lost star point guard Tim Frazier to graduation, but they return four starters and three top reserves. All seven of those returners started at least two games last season. Penn State also has nine juniors and seniors on its roster as it prepares to open its season at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 against Morgan State at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Senior guard D.J. Newbill is back to lead Penn State after pacing the team with 17.8 points per game last year. The Nittany Lions are coming off a 16-18 season that saw them finish tied for 10th in the Big Ten and ended with a loss to Siena in the College Basketball Invitational.
“Hopefully we’ve learned from past experiences,” Chambers said. “As a coach that’s what you’re banking on. I see in practice that we’re playing harder, we’re playing more together and we’re doing the little things that are necessary to be the best team that we can be.”
Chambers said he plans to manage his players’ minutes to keep them fresh going into Big Ten play. He wants to develop a deeper rotation to take pressure off Newbill, who played 34.2 minutes per game in 2013-14. To do that, he said he needs players like forwards Ross Travis, Brandon Taylor and Donovon Jack and center Jordan Dickerson to play 28-33 minutes per game. He sees potential for a different player to step up each game to help carry the scoring load.
The coach also has noticed stronger leadership from his players.
He meets with a leadership council made up of Newbill, Travis, Taylor, Alan Wisniewski and Kevin Montminy after practice, giving them the opportunity to help make decisions about the program.
It’s part of Chambers adapting as a coach going into his fourth year, something the players appreciate.
“He (doesn’t) want to make it seem like it’s just Patrick Chambers’ way,” Newbill said. “He wanted to give us some input. I think that’s what helps the team chemistry and the locker room and just the vibe with the coaches.”
Chambers said this group of players has developed trust with him and his staff.
And he said he’s learned a lot in his first three years at Penn State, where he’s posted a 38-59 record.
“I think after three years of incredible experience, I know everybody says the old cliché there’s a lot to be learned from failure,” Chambers said. “I’ve learned so much over these last three years going into Year 4. I mean, it’s been invaluable to learn on the job this way, and I think the approach with the players has changed. However, I’m still going to be demanding.”
But Chambers said he doesn’t have to hold his players accountable at all times.
His veterans are speaking up, too.
“The voice doesn’t always have to come from coach,” Travis said. “It can come from us as well, so just being out there and being a vocal leader is one of the main things that we’re going to go out there and do.”
Chambers said it’s been a long and difficult process to get to this point.
He said he’s building something special from the ground up. Taking the next step, Chambers said, is about getting better.
But he didn’t make any “bold predictions” for the season.
“I think that’s unfair to our staff and to our players,” Chambers said. “We should be better. We should be better. I don’t know what that number is though. I don’t know what it’s going to be at the end of the year, nor do I even want to try because I think as a coach when you try to do that — and I’ve done that, I’ve done that — you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”