The process to take a Big Ten game to the Palestra started last year.
Penn State men’s basketball coach Patrick Chambers said the idea made sense for his program “for so many reasons.”
When the Nittany Lions take on Michigan State at the historic arena in Philadelphia on Jan. 7, the students will be away on break. Chambers also pointed out the university has a large alumni base in Philadelphia, and he has six players from the Philadelphia area on his roster.
“And oh by the way, I’m from Philly so there’s so many positives,” Chambers said at a press conference Tuesday, one day after announcing the game.
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Chambers and his staff took the idea to Penn State athletic administrators and talked about the steps they’d need to take the game to the Palestra. Penn State then worked with the Big Ten along with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to finalize the game.
It’s a Nittany Lions’ home game. It will be a return home for some of his players.
Shep Garner, Julian Moore, Mike Watkins, Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens are all from the Philadelphia area.
Chambers said they’re excited about the opportunity.
“They’re fired up, their families are out of their minds,” Chambers said. “They’re already talking about tickets and how they’re going to get in and all that stuff. Meanwhile tickets aren’t even out yet.”
Chambers also expects the big-time matchup to prepare his team for the rest of the season.
“The experience is going to be amazing for this program to once again put ourselves on a different platform, a different stage,” Chambers said.
It’s part of a schedule that includes games against Duke in Connecticut, George Washington in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh in New Jersey and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.
“If you can’t make it to the BJC, we’re coming to you,” Chambers said. “We’re coming an arena near you very soon. ... There’s so many opportunities for alums and fans and families to come out and support this program. That was the goal.”
Getting in shape
The Nittany Lions have started to prepare to push the tempo this season.
It starts with conditioning.
“I don’t think it’s been fun for them,” Chambers said, “but they understand how we want to play, how we want to get up and down a little bit faster this year.”
During workouts, the coaches stressed getting up and down the floor. They keep track of how quickly they’re getting across half court, and they’ve shown the players some video of the new style.
But Chambers said he doesn’t want to overwhelm them with the changes on the court.
Freshmen exceeding expectations
Chambers has been impressed by his freshmen on and off the court.
They’re talented and coachable.
“When you get a highly ranked or a highly touted class like this, sometimes kids think they know everything, and that’s not the way these kids are at all,” Chambers said. “They want to be coached.”
Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr, Joe Hampton and Lamar Stevens made up a recruiting class ranked 25th in the nation by ESPN.
“They’re all ears,” Chambers said. “They’re sponges right now. They want, they’re very good listeners and they’re asking how they can get better and what they need to work on, and we’ll continue to do that here when we start up next week really putting in our defense and doing little things like that.”
Chambers is looking forward to seeing redshirt freshman Mike Watkins on the floor this year.
Watkins sat out last season after he was not cleared by the NCAA, an experience Chambers called “a blessing.”
“It’s really helped him in every facet of his life, academically, socially, athletically,” Chambers said.
Chambers said Watkins is a talented player who can run the floor and block shots in addition to being a skilled passer out of the post.
“He’s going to be one of the better big men to come through Penn State in a long time,” Chambers said.