Penn State basketball players are remaining all atwitter during preseason camp this year. Or maybe a better way of saying that is the players are remaining on Twitter.
Fourth-year coach Patrick Chambers, who usually forbids the Nittany Lions from taking to social media during the season, has had an about-face (or about-Facebook?) this year. It came after hashing (or hash tagging?) things out with a group of five upperclassmen he has dubbed his leadership council.
Usually, as soon as practice starts, I say goodbye to social media, Chambers said during PSU Media Day at the Jordan Center Tuesday. But I met with the leadership council, and this is where I'm growing as a coach. As silly as that sounds, obviously social media is very important these days for these kids. Look, I'm on it, too.
We came up with a different plan this year, he added. We'll see how it goes. They came up with the solution. I talked to my staff, I talked to my council, and we said, OK, let's give it a try.
For Chambers, it is part of a greater overall growing process -- by himself, by his veteran players and by the program in general. In his first three years in Happy Valley, Penn State went a collective 38-59 and won a total of 12 Big Ten games. Last season was a high-water mark of sorts, as the Lions went 16-18 and lost in the second round of the CBI.
Granted, the program Chambers inherited from Ed DeChellis was gutted by graduation losses and spotty recruiting. Now however, no scholarship players remain from the DeChellis era.
And this is by far Chambers' most veteran team. There are four returning starters, nine returning lettermen and nine players (including walk-ons) with upper class eligibility.
I know everyone says the old cliché, there's a lot to be learned by failure, Chambers said. I've learned so much over these last three years going into year four. It's been invaluable to learn this way. And I think the approach with the players has changed.
I'm still gonna be demanding, he added. But I'm seeing a transfer to the leaders. The leaders are now doing it where I don't have to. Working with those guys, they're starting to take the keys to the car and they're the ones demanding that guys get things done and guys hold each other accountable.
The change of philosophy is manifesting itself in some ways that are obvious. Guard D.J. Newbill, a second-team All-Big Ten pick a year ago who is a captain and on the leadership council, explained how things are different during practice.
It's not always letting Coach be the one to correct guys or get on guys about mistakes, Newbill said. It has to come from us. Ultimately, we're the leaders of the team. So I think it's good when guys see us stepping up and taking that role.
“I'm seeing a transfer to the leaders. The leaders are now doing it where I don't have to. Working with those guys, they're starting to take the keys to the car and they're the ones demanding that guys get things done and guys hold each other accountable.”
But there are some not-so-obvious changes, too, things that may not seem important to the outside world.
Brandon Taylor, a junior who is also on the council, has been tasked with being an enforcer in the locker room. If things get messy, players answer to Taylor.
It must be spotless, Chambers said.
It helps me come out of my comfort zone, calling guys out, Taylor said. Picking up the trash, that's usually something that gets overlooked. But now that I've got to be head of the locker room, I have to tell guys what to do and when to clean up. It helps me become a better leader.
Senior guard Kevin Montminy is in charge of the team refrigerator, while senior forward Alan Wisniewski makes sure each Lion weighs in every day.
If such jobs aren't taken care of by the upperclassmen?
There could be some consequences, Chambers said. A little extra running, a little extra push-ups. But right now, I think they're enjoying developing as leaders.
They are also enjoying seeing the changes in their coach. In his own words, Chambers is demanding and intense. But he is also proving to be flexible when it comes to players he trusts.
It's just a matter of him adapting to the team he has, Newbill said. A lot of the time, coaches, they know one way, they coach one way, and that's how its gonna be. I think with him, he's like, you know what, I've got a great group of guys, I've got great leaders. He trusts in us -- what he calls giving us rope to do things that we like to do. Just trying to keep a great environment.
The leadership council is comprised of Newbill, Taylor, Montminy, Wisniewski and senior forward Ross Travis. So far this semester, they've been meeting with Chambers about once a week. Topics addressed range from issues that arise on the court, in the locker room or in life in general.
We're around the players, Newbill said. We kind of know what they want or some of the things they have concerns about. Some of the things (Chambers) doesn't hear because he's not in our locker room. So we can kind of relay that message to him. He'll take feedback from us and make changes.
I may have wanted to do it differently in year one, Chambers said. But now they're saying, hey coach, instead of doing it this way, why don't we try it this way. You're empowering them. That's the way we develop leadership and great leaders.
As for allowing players to use Twitter during the season, Chambers said, I do get it. It's part of the generation. It's how they communicate.
When it comes to communicating with the head coach, though, they realize they can do it man to man.
He wants to give us input, Newbill said. I think that's what helps the team chemistry and the locker room, and just the vibe with the coaches.
Added Chambers: For me, that's part of the process of becoming a better program and a better team.