Big Ten Preview: Penn State basketball writer Brian Polking continues his series previewing each of the Big Ten teams with Penn State, including an exclusive interview with head coach Ed DeChellis regarding his expectations for the Nittany Lions and the upcoming 2007-08 season.

An 11-19 record with only two conference wins might crush the confidence of most teams – but not the Penn State men's basketball team.

Armed with their top six scorers from last season and a newfound attitude, the Nittany Lions expect to be a factor in the Big Ten championship race this year.

"There's a reason for everything, and we don't want history to repeat itself so we knew we had to go back and work harder," Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis told "I'm not focused on last year. I'm focused on this year and where we're going."

The players have also put last year's disappointing season behind them.

"Nobody wants to lose," senior forward Geary Claxton said. "Everybody is working hard and trying to do as much as they can. Everybody here wants to win. It's a clean slate this year. We have a lot of athleticism, and I think we can do great things."

DeChellis has already noticed an improved level of confidence with his team.

"We have a different spark to us," he said. "Even the lay-up lines are different. Every team has a personality, and this team's personality is starting to take shape. We have a competitiveness to us that I think makes us a better basketball team."

Along with the attitude comes a new style of play designed to take advantage of a PSU roster filled with experienced players, including Claxton, junior forward Jamelle Cornley, junior guard Danny Morrissey and sophomore forward David Jackson, who combined to average 46 points per game last year.

"We have enough guys that we can push the ball offensively," DeChellis said. "Defensively, it has been an emphasis to pressure the ball more. We're trying to make the offense uncomfortable. We have enough bodies that we can do that now. We have the depth we need to play that way."

The depth of the Nittany Lions is complimented by the versatility of many of the players.

"We have guys that can play different positions, and we've tried to recruit that way," DeChellis said. "We're going to play to our strengths, move some guys around and create some positive matchups."

No player on the team is more versatile than Claxton, who led Penn State in points and rebounds a year ago and is the leading returning rebounder in the Big Ten.

"Offensively, he scores with the ball," DeChellis said. "He worked really hard on his shooting in the offseason, and he's a great screener. Defensively, I think Geary can guard anyone he wants to guard. He can guard a point guard and somebody's four man because he's strong, he's athletic and he's long."

Already a first-team All-Big Ten selection, Claxton is still improving as a player according to his coach.

"He is trying to lead more by example and verbally as well," DeChellis said. "He's always been a hard worker, but now I see him being more vocal and communicating to the other guys. He does a great job of driving the ball, kicking it to other guys and getting guys shots. You become a complete player when you can make other guys around you better."

True freshman Talor Battle, junior Stanley Pringle and senior Mike Walker are also models of versatility as DeChellis said all would see time at both point guard and shooting guard this year.

Battle, one of two freshmen on the roster along with forward Jeff Brooks, has already left a positive impression on the coaching staff.

"Talor's strength is he is very creative with the ball," DeChellis said. "He uses ball screens very well, he has a knack for getting in the paint and he finds the open guy. I think defensively he can guard the basketball. He's competitive, and I think that's the most important thing he brings to the table."

Unlike many teams that rely heavily on versatile, swingman-type players, the Nittany Lions aren't pushovers in the paint. DeChellis said senior forward Brandon Hassell (6-11), junior forward Joonas Suotamo (6-10) and sophomore forward Andrew Jones (6-9) can all provide a physical inside presence.

"They're natural posts," the Penn State coach said. "We want them to run the floor, be rebounders, be great defenders and not put to much pressure on them offensively right now. They know what we need out of them."

The new-look Nittany Lions won't have to wait long to put their new style to the test with games against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and Seton Hall early in the year.

"The nonconference schedule I think is very good," DeChellis said. "We'll really find out early at the Old Spice Classic where we are. I think early on we'll have a read on where we are as a team. It's a balanced nonconference schedule but it's challenging."

Regardless of the outcome of the nonconference games, DeChellis said a successful season is determined by how well the Nittany Lions perform in the Big Ten. Spirits are high in Happy Valley and he expects his team to be a contender in the conference race.

"I think it's a great league," DeChellis said. "We always have six or seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, and I don't think it's going to be any different this year. It's a race that's going to be an open race we hope. Some teams are going to try to jump up in the middle of this thing and we're one of them. We think we can jump up into the thick of the race. We need to play well, but our guys are up to the challenge."


Last year's record: 11-19 overall, 2-14 Big Ten

Head coach: Ed DeChellis, fifth season

Career record: 147-169

Record at Penn State: 42-76

Leading returning scorer: Geary Claxton, 16.3 ppg

Leading returning rebounder: Geary Claxton, 8.0 rpg

Season opener: St. Francis, home, Nov. 12

Big Ten opener: at Northwestern, Jan. 2 (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2)

Buckeye Sports Top Stories