Lions Looking to Bounce Back

A Penn State basketball Media Day Monday, the focus was on leadership, team chemistry and winning close games.

One play can make all the difference in a basketball game.

For Penn State, that lesson was learned the hard way last season.

Less than six points decided 10 out of the Nittany Lions' 19 regular-season losses. It was a recipe for failure, one that they had avoided in their NIT Championship season in 2008-09.

“Two years ago we were 11-3 in games decided by five points or less,” head coach Ed DeChellis said during the team's Media Day at the Bryce Jordan Center Monday. “What does that mean? It means us making one more play - that has been the theme of the summer and fall. Whether it's getting the big rebound, making the big basket, or getting the key defensive stop, we've got to be ready to make the plays when they're there for us.”

DeChellis, now in his eighth season as head coach, believes that in order for the “one more play” mantra to be effective, team leaders will have to not only enforce it in games, but also during practice and off-the-court activities.

“Last year the guys didn't hang out and spend time with each other after games,” DeChellis said. “This year the guys have been together a lot and that's because we've got great leadership with our seniors. They're committed to being leaders.

“That may not sound big but that bonding and spending time with each other is very critical.”

The principal bearer of DeChellis' increased emphasis on better leadership is senior guard Talor Battle.

Penn State's seventh all-time leading scorer, Battle is the face of the Nittany Lion program. It is a title and honor he does not take lightly, so much so that this offseason he began toning down his aiding and nurturing of teammates.

“Being a leader is not always doing everything for everyone,” Battle said. “Sometimes it's letting people do it themselves and just being there to help when they need you. Now, instead of me trying to do everything all the time, I'm just there to help people when they need me.”

Battle's most enlightening moment of the offseason came during a team-building exercise when a former Marine Special Forces group visited the players.

The drill involved each member of the team lifting an incredibly heavy ball, whose weight was supposed to represent the responsibility the player carried for the team this season.

As his teammates struggled maintaining their handle of the ball, Battle kept coming to their rescue.

The Marines told Battle that if he wanted his teammates to get better as players, he would have to limit his involvement.

“You're going to get your guys killed,” Battle recalled the Marines saying. “You have to let them learn to carry the burden without you. They'll never learn how to be a team player otherwise.”

Battle accepted the former Marines' advice and has started to practice what they preached. He now understands that leadership is an innate quality, but one you can improve on throughout life.

“I had a question today in class, 'Do you think leadership is in your DNA or you can learn it?' ” Battle said. “My answer was that it's in your DNA, but I think with practice you become better at it. I think for myself and the senior class we're getting better at it every day.”

Battle's newfound mentality has been extremely evident to senior forward Andrew Jones.

“I definitely have noticed a difference in Talor,” Jones said. “This summer he had great experiences at basketball camps and different coaches taught him how to help get other people involved. He has much worked much harder at doing that.”

While Battle's leadership will be key in determining if Penn State reaches its team goal of making the NCAA Tournament, making that one more play will be the ultimate deciding factor.

“Last year, our lack of leadership could be attributed to us not making that one extra play,” senior forward Jeff Brooks said. “This year though, with the bonding we've had off the court, and our older guys stepping up their leadership, I think we'll make that one more play.”

Battle and DeChellis at Monday's practice.

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