Hoop Media Day

Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis has more than a little salesman in him. But when it came to stripping the names from the backs of the Nittany Lions' jerseys this year, it wasn't so much about peddling game programs as it was about building team pride for an outfit that hasn't enjoyed a winning season in nearly half a decade.

“I think the name on the front of the jersey is very important,” DeChellis said at PSU's hoop Media Day Tuesday. “It is the only name we should be worried about. We'll go back to old school and put focus on the name of the front of the jersey, as it should be.”

Listen to Ed DeChellis' entire press conference with a Total Access Pass.

For a program sorely lacking in team chemistry during its extended dry spell, which included a school-record 23 losses (vs. seven wins) in 2004-05, the move makes sense. But with eight newcomers on the roster — five scholarship freshmen, one juco transfer and a pair of walk-ons — getting to know the athletes will be a challenge.

Especially the three freshmen from Europe with tongue-twisting names; big men Milos Bogetic and Joonas Suotamo, and guard Nikola Obradovic. Even Florida guard Max Dubois (DOO-Bwa) has a handle that's a bit of a challenge. Thankfully the crazy vowel and consonant combos stop with Ohio forward Jamelle Cornley and juco guard David Jackson.

“It's been fun with all these new guys,” said sophomore forward Geary Claxton, State's leading scorer as a rookie a season ago. “There are so many characters there. And they all bring a lot of heart to the team. They work very hard. They are going to help us a lot this year, all of the freshmen. And Dave Jackson brings a lot of experience.”

How competitive they are against prime-time competition remains to be seen. DeChellis purposely dialed down the power level on the non-conference schedule, with Pitt and Texas A&M (both road), and Clemson (home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge) the only high Division I opponents on the pre-Big Ten slate. The idea is to build a bit of swagger.

“Our kids have not had a lot of confidence,” the third-year explained. “We're trying to build confidence in this team.”

Vastly improved depth should help in that area. There have been times in the last two seasons when injuries and defections have forced assistant coaches into action during practice. And while former Lion star and new DeChellis aide Dan Earl can certainly handle himself in such a role, it is doubtful he will have to. Including the walk-ons, DeChellis has 15 players on the roster.

Forward Travis Parker, the team's only senior, said that makes a difference when it comes to fighting for jobs and implementing an up-tempo style.

“It is a lot more competitive,” he reported. “People want to win. People are hungry.”

Claxton is a lock to start at small forward and Parker will more than likely get the nod at the four spot. But competition for playing time in the backcourt will be a battle for the first time in years. Junior Ben Luber, and sophomores Mike Walker and Danny Morrissey, had nobody pushing them this year.

Now Jackson, a rugged 23-year-old with a strong handle and clear leadership skills, is in the mix. So too are Dubois (an athletic wing) and Obradovic (a deadeye shooter).

In the post, athletic sophomore Brandon Hassell has grown to a legit 6-foot-10 and is the most improved player in the program. Though undersize at 6-5, Cornley is a 235-pounder whose physical play made him a bit of a surprise through the Lions' first six practice sessions. Suotamo is 6-10 with all-around skills and room to fill out. Bogetic is the same size, and, while not as athletic, has good range.

“We have three teams [of five in practice] and can do some things and are more competitive,” DeChellis said. “We can demand some things from guys.”

That competition has caused the athletes to pay more attention to the coaching staff. And that, in turn, has made for much better practices. DeChellis hopes it keeps up through the season-opener, Nov. 19 vs. Cornell at the Jordan Center. But early indications are that the Nittany Lions are heading in the right direction.

“We made more passes yesterday in practice than we had in my two previous years,” he said. “It was absolutely fun to watch basketball.”

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