(NOTE: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on the upcoming men’s basketball season. It was also written prior to the exhibition game against Bloomsburg.)
When we last left our heroes, they had just completed a season that began with promise but ended in bitter disappointment, yet with plenty of hope for the future. You see, they beat not one, but TWO name opponents in Virginia Tech and Seton Hall during the non-conference portion of the schedule and then went on to follow that up by winning their first two games of the Big Ten slate (on the road, I should add) against Northwestern and Illinois respectively.
Brimming with confidence and returning back to the BJC for some home cooking against Minnesota, our heroes jumped out to a sizeable lead, leading by as many as 16 points against the Gophers. Yes, things looked pretty good for our heroes and they were on their way to an unprecedented 3-0 start in Big Ten play, a result that would cause seismic shifts throughout the conference…until they suddenly remembered they were playing for Penn State Basketball.
Things descended downhill fast: Minnesota began to full-court press our heroes to death and rallied to a victory, Geary Claxton tore his ACL the very next game against Wisconsin, and the season quickly began to sputter into a tailspin with the danger alarms and the red lights blaring. Jamelle Cornley’s knee, which had not been 100% at all, began to get worse and ultimately would force him to miss the last several games of the season, forcing the younger batch of freshmen and sophomores to grow up quickly enough to salvage the season.
Upset victories over Michigan State and Indiana prevented the season from being a total disaster. In fact, when the dust had settled, our heroes managed to post its most number of wins in Big Ten play (7) since the magical Sweet 16 season in 2001. Unfortunately, thanks to a first-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament on a last-second layup by Illinois, our heroes were doomed to sulk upon another sub-.500 record, finishing at 15-16 overall.
Fast forward to the present and you’ll find that our heroes have hatched a brilliant idea stolen directly from the Barack Obama campaign by launching their own “Get out the Season Tickets” drive and delivering season tickets to kind old ladies in exchange for brownies…Mmmm, brownies…
Additionally, they have been incessantly blabbing during every media interview about one thing and one thing only: Get to the NCAA Tournament. While such a prediction sounds as ludicrous as one of our players pledging to break Wilt Chamberlain’s “most women slept with” record (20,000 for you stat geeks), only time will tell if such a scenario is that far-fetched.
Obviously, the biggest loss from last year was Geary Claxton but the team has long since gotten used to playing without him so that won’t be an issue coming into this year. Additionally, Mike Walker and his streaky 3-point shooting will be missed..particularly his patented “Walker shots” (i.e. fadeway threes) but Chris Babb will be a taller and more athletic replacement for him. Brandon Hassell, Joonas Suotamo, and Nikola Obradovic were role model citizens but as far as their on-court impact goes, let’s put it this way: Nobody is going to be saying “Man, I wish we still had (insert one of the aforementioned names)” whenever we’re having an off-night.
So now that the dearly departed have been dealt with, let’s focus on who is returning to represent the Fighting DeChellises:
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN (KEY RETURNEES)
Jamelle Cornley (F, 12.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) – He is the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder. In another life, this 6’5″ 240-pound behemoth would have stuck around his backyard of Columbus, OH to play tight end for Jim Tressel’s program. Thankfully, Jamelle has chosen to live in the Bizarro World and has been an undersized (but not underappreciated) force who plays as if he’s 6’9.”
Stanley Pringle (G, 6.9 ppg, 2.3 apg) – Arguably the team’s best ball-handler, *smirk* this former JUCO superstar is probably best known for his smooth stroke *pffffft* and if you don’t respect his skills, he’ll shoot it in right in your face from long range *highly audible snickering*
Stanley is also the epitome of the term “student-athlete” as he can be frequently spotted throughout the various stacks at Pattee Library.
Talor Battle (G, 10.3 ppg, 3.2 apg) – The savior of Penn State Basketball. His lightning-quick point guarding style and his shooting abilities played a significant role in a couple key upsets last season against Michigan State and Indiana. He is also a true hero of the Nittany Nation as evidenced by the photograph below and is rumored to be next in line to take over the presidency of Cuba after Raul Castro.
David “DJ” Jackson (F, 5.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) – Defied everybody’s expectations last season by managing to stay relatively healthy for the entire year. He didn’t put up big numbers by any means last year but was a serious contributor who did all the little things like rebound, hustle, and make some shots to keep opposing defenses honest. Much more will be expected out of him this time around though.
Andrew Jones III (F/C, 4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg) – That’s “AJ III” to you, son! Had some growing pains last season after seeing his first full year of game action after redshirting in 2006 but was starting to step his game and confidence level as the season came to a close last year. With another summer of intense training/bulking up, Jones will be expected to play an even bigger role at the forward/center spot.
Jeff Brooks (F, 3.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) – Along with Talor Battle, was a highly regarded recruit for his position. Unlike Battle though, he struggled most of the season to live up to the hype. His rail-thin frame and lack of confidence seemed to get the best of him last season, though he did have a breakthrough performance in the Big Ten regular season finale against Indiana where he posted 12 points and 6 rebounds in an upset over the Hoosiers. Hopefully, he can continue to build off that breakthrough performance and become the contributor many expected him to be a long time ago.
Danny Morrissey (G, 7.6 ppg, 36.9 3 point %) – Arguably the best returning 3-point shooter, leading the team in successfully converted treys last season with 58. Danny also has an uncanny ability to “take one for the team” when it comes to picking up charges. If this basketball program is an infantry unit, then he’s the type of the guy who would fall on a grenade without hesitation in order to protect his fellow soldiers.
Danny has even disproved the long-held theory that “white men can’t jump” by stuffing a Michigan State player who was at least 6-7 inches taller than him, but the referees hate when shit like that happens so they whistled him for a foul.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK (INCOMING PLAYERS)
Chris Babb (Guard) – Straight out of Texas, where people like their toast crisp and buttery…just like this kid’s jump shot. Chris will be expected to help fill the void left by the departed Mike Walker and at 6’5″ will provide some height to a vertically-challenged backcourt. Hopefully this can translate into better perimeter defense.
One thing though: Make sure the kid doesn’t get involved in making snow angels, b/c snow is apparently like Kryptonite to Texans.
Cammeron Woodyard (Guard) – Another one of those “late bloomer” types that Ed DeChellis has a knack for finding. At 6’5″ he only started playing guard during his last year or two in high school but quickly adjusted to it enough to draw a lot of mid-major attention. The kid is known for a solid mid-range jumper which if the reports are true, are something to cherish as it seems the mid-range game has gone the way of the dodo. He also brings athleticism to the roster, which we can never have enough of. Time will only tell, but Cammeron is expected to be a part of the rotation, giving our starting guards a few minutes to rest their weary legs.
Billy Oliver (Forward) – Not a whole lot is known about him, nor is he coming in with great expectations for this year. Probably will redshirt. Definitely made a good decision though to leave that hell-hole better known as “New Jersey.”
Andrew Ott (Forward) – Transferred from Villanova due to lack of PT. Given that he couldn’t see the floor much at a vertically-challenged program like Nova makes Yours Truly suspicious about whether he will ever contribute much to the cause (and for the record, Yours Truly hopes he is dead wrong).
SYNOPSIS: The obvious strengths lie in the backcourt, where the lightning-quick Battle and Pringle provide athleticism as well as the ability to pop the long-range jumper along with Danny Morrissey. Hopefully, Battle has matured with a year under his belt and will not try to force passes that aren’t there or push the ball too quickly and play out of control. The addition of Babb and Woodyard could potentially help with perimeter defense as both guys are rather tall for their position.
The frontcourt is much more worrisome though as it still lacks a big guy who can consistently defend the paint by blocking shots and pulling down rebounds, preventing second chance opportunities for opponents. Cornley, while a beast, is undersized for a power forward. Not to mention the fact Cornley was probably playing 85% healthy at best and below 50% right before he decided to get surgery and call it quits for the final few games of last season in order to get a head start on preparing for this season. DJ should continue to be one of those glue guys who doesn’t light up the stat sheet but does the little things like hustle, rebound, and move well without the ball.
As a result, Brooks and AJ III will need to pick up where they left off last season and continue to improve or else opposing teams will have a field day as far as picking up points in the paint is concerned. Defense has long been the achilles’ heel of this program and that will need to improve dramatically if PSU wants to get anywhere close to achieving its NCAA Tournament dreams.
That’s all for now, Part 2 will be up later this week in which we’ll examine the schedule and offer a prediction on just how well our heroes will fare this season. In the meantime, break out the Kool-Aid, the gin, and the sugar, because another basketball season has dawned upon us…