Chambers Looks to Familiar Face at Point

Penn State All-Big Ten off guard D.J. Newbill is changing roles yet again. This and other notes from the Nittany Lion hoops program.


Penn State's new point guard really isn't so new.

With all-time assist leader Tim Frazier having exhausted his eligibility, Pat Chambers needs someone to take over the primary ball-handling duties for the Nittany Lions. When preseason practice began earlier this week, 2013-14 second-team All-Big Ten shooting guard D.J. Newbill was the No. 1 point.

“D.J. needs to be -- right now -- your first option,” Chambers said.

“He's been preparing for that in the preseason,” the coach added. “He played a lot of that in the summer.”

Though he competed primarily at the two spot last winter, when he led the Nittany Lions and finished second in the Big Ten by averaging 17.8 points, the one is familiar territory to Newbill. He was forced into action there in 2012-13, when Frazier was lost early in the season to an Achilles injury.

Also, during summer trips to invitational camps held by NBA stars Kevin Durant and LeBron James, Newbill spent time focusing on his ball handling and passing.

The goal was to be ready should he be needed at the point this season.

“I prepared myself, just in case,” Newbill said. “I'm sure coach is going to play me some at the point. … I'm comfortable.”

WHO ELSE IS IN THE MIX?

Chambers said he expects Newbill to play shooting guard, as well. How much he does of each will be greatly impacted by the development of a pair of newcomers.

True freshman Shep Garner was an All-State pick at powerhouse Roman Catholic High in Philadelphia, and at a sturdy 6-foot-1, 185 pounds has the body to contribute as a rookie.

“Shep's just gonna be a tough-nosed, Chester guard,” Newbill said, referring to Garner's hometown of Chester, Pa., “coming in and playing hard every possession.”

Junior college transfer Devin Foster, who goes 6-2, 205, is even more physically prepared. He led Vincennes (Ind). University to a NJCAA Final Four appearance last season.

Newbill said Foster “might be one of the best passers I've seen in a long time. His decision making coming off the pick and roll is some of the best I've seen coming through this program.”

That was an interesting comment considering Newbill played with Frazier last season.

“Devin and Shep are still young, still new,” Chambers added. “But they're competing and battling for that backup spot. … If those guys can get comfortable, understand what we're doing and (are) able to defend the position, I think we can do it as a unit and not one single guy.”

DOMINO EFFECT

When Newbill plays the point, that's going to open up playing time at shooting guard. Chambers has some intriguing options there.

Sophomore Geno Thorpe was primarily a defensive specialist a year ago, but said he spent the off-season looking to round out his game. Senior John Johnson has been an instant offense type since transferring in from Pitt last year.

Rookie Isaiah Washington is the best pure athlete on the team -- Chambers guessed he could touch the top of the backboard -- but will probably have to get stronger (he's listed at 6-3, 160) to earn consistent minutes.

The wildcard in the backcourt is redshirt freshman Payton Banks, all 6-6, 215 pounds of him.

Asked for a scouting report on himself, the California native said, “I can shoot. I'm just gonna say that because I know I can back that up.” If true, he'll be a welcome addition to a team that made just 32 percent of its triples last season.

“We've got some great combinations at the two,” Chambers said.

TRIPLE TROUBLE

Speaking of which, Penn State has struggled to make 3-point shots during Chambers' tenure, and he admitted, “It's been an issue the last three years.”

As noted, the Lions made only 32 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc last winter. Newbill is the returning leader in that department, having made only 32.6 percent of his triples as a junior.

But Chambers is not going to try to force the role of long-range shooting specialist on anyone.

“I don't want to start doing that to any of our players and I don't want to do that to myself,” he said. “I'm picking the best five -- whether they're great 3-point shooters or not -- that's gonna make us the best team we can be.”

If the 3-point shooting does not improve, he believes the Lions can mitigate such issues by playing stronger defense and getting out into transition.

“I think that helps us get easy baskets,” he said. “And you know how hard it is to score easy baskets in the Big Ten.”

CLIMBING FAST

Senior forward Ross Travis has been a key contributor since his freshman season. How key?

Travis is on pace to become the third-leading rebounder in Penn State history. You read that right. (This note courtesy of Nittany Lion super fan Uncle Lar.)

Travis enters his final campaign with 603 rebounds, which is just outside the program's top 15. But if he stays healthy, he should blast his way up the list.

Simply meeting his yearly average of 201 rebounds would put him above 800, which would be good for No. 3.

No. 1 on the list is Jesse Arnelle, whose 1,238 boards from 1952-55 are unlikely to be touched (someone would have to average 10 per game for more than 120 games just to get close). Mike Lang (1980-83) is second at 912.

Gene Harris (1960-62) is fourth with 762.

Travis is poised to pass … take a deep breath before starting to read this list … Tom Hovasse (619), Talor Battle (625), Gyasi Cline-Heard (642), Andrew Jones (681), Randy Meister (692), Jarrett Stephens (703), Carvin Jefferson (713), Calvin Booth (728), Carver Clinton (734), John Amaechi (745), Jamelle Cornley and Geary Claxton (755), and Harris.

Travis had 135 rebounds as a freshman, 229 as a sophomore and 239 as a junior.


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