Jamelle Cornley may not have been real big, but he sure played like it.
The Columbus (Ohio) Brookhaven High School star helped his team to two Division I state title appearances, winning one as a freshman as well as two heart-breaking losses on the regional finals. But standing just 6-foot-5 in shoes, few major schools recruited the power forward crowned Mr. Basketball in the state of Ohio on the grounds of 21.1 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.
Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis didn’t shy away from the warrior in the paint.
Recognizing Cornley’s love for the Big Ten, DeChellis offered Cornley a scholarship. Cornley accepted and has not been a disappointment thus far in his two-and-a-half years at State College.
As Cornley and the Nittany Lions prepare to host Ohio State this evening at 7 PM, it’s another opportunity for Cornley to upstage the hometown team. As an honorable All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore (13.5 PPG and 6.7 RPG), Cornley has been forced to play a larger role this season as Geary Claxton went down with a season-ending knee injury. Though his scoring (12.5) and rebounding (6.1) are down he’s been relegated to more attention from opposing defenses while fighting through injuries of his own, making life a bit tougher.
“Jamelle has had a great career here for us – we’re thrilled for his development,” DeChellis said Monday on the Big Ten men’s basketball coaches’ teleconference. “Unfortunately for him and our team, he’s been battling a knee injury all season.”
Since the loss of Claxton, Penn State has seen a dramatic drop in rebounding. Tops in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding, the Nittany Lions had been setting an example on how to get second and third chances all season long after missed shots. However, despite Cornley’s rebounding prowess, the absence of Claxton has DeChellis scrambling.
It’s required a shift in his team’s focus.
“I think the thing that we can control was that we were a very good rebounding team and now our numbers say that we’re not the last four games,” he added. “Rebound and defend - with Geary we lost a lot of different things, I’m just trying to get our guys to understand the things we can control.”
Entering tonight’s game against Penn State, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta is well aware of the challenges presented by the undersized Cornley.
His own team has struggled to rebound the basketball throughout the season – something Cornley thrives on.
Matta, who said he remembers Cornley’s father playing for Illinois State, has been impressed with his development.
“Watching him as a player and watching him progress, he’s obviously just a great basketball player,” Matta said Monday on the Big Ten teleconference. “He’s had a great career thus far at Penn State.”
Penn State leads the Big Ten in offensive rebounding at just shy of 14 rebounds per game. Though it’s dropped over the past two weeks, Penn State remains fifth in the league in rebounding margin at 3.6 rebounds per game more than its opponents.
With Claxton out of the lineup the emphasis is on Cornley.
“He’s one of those guys you just see the improvement every year,” Matta added, “and I think he’s definitely a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.”
Matta just hopes that tonight, Cornley doesn’t continue to play bigger.