Speaking of which, also note that time frame: two hours. The Nittany Lions have been practicing for a week and a half now, including early morning and afternoon sessions on certain days (like Thursday), so what we saw was a small snapshot of a much bigger mosaic.
With all of that in mind, here we go, hitting the players in the backcourt and then the frontcourt in alphabetical order:
Geary Claxton, 6-5, Forward
OK, so the standout junior is not exactly a little guy. But when the team breaks down into backcourt and frontcourt drills, he goes with the former. The only real question about his game going into this season is perimeter shooting, and Thursday he hit most everything he attempted from the floor. If you are looking for some nit picking, I think he can get better at setting up teammates for open jumpers off his own dribble. But overall, the kid is the total package. Look for him to be named preseason first-team All-Big Ten at conference media day Sunday.
Max Dubois, 6-3, Guard
I'm guessing the redshirt freshman will be more of a small forward type, playing behind Claxton, than a shooting guard. He runs the floor well and seemed to play decent defense while I was watching. But he was reluctant to take the open jumper and was not willing to drive to the hole to score. PSU was working on a lot of zone defense while I was there, so that may have been a factor in that area.
David Jackson (Mooch), 6-1, Guard
I saw two things I really liked from Jackson Thursday. First, he was much more aggressive offensively. He had the skill to do that last season, but as a junior college transfer in his first year in the program, he did not have the confidence. Now a senior, he attacked more when I saw him, pulling up for open jumpers from the arc and driving and kicking. Also, he got vocal with a couple of teammates, one who made a mistake during a drill and the other who was day-dreaming when the coaching staff told him to enter a drill. He was basically telling them to get their behinds in gear. That's a good sign. Expect him to start at shooting guard and also see minutes at the point.
Ben Luber, 6-0, Guard
I'll be stunned if anyone even pushes the senior for the starting point guard job. That is partly because there is not another natural point in the program. But it is also very much because, now a senior, Luber has once again improved his all-round game. He looked a step quicker to me, shot very well from the arc, did not commit a turnover while I was watching and hit the passing lanes for a couple of steals. I think he will still have trouble matching up defensively with bigger guards in man situations and scoring off the dribble, but otherwise I'd look for him to have a good final season.
Danny Morrissey, 6-3, Guard
Rats. The one guy I really want to see to check out how he is doing after missing all of last season due to a knee injury and his action is limited the day I'm there because he was conked on the head in practice earlier this week. In the drills he did run through, he looked fine physically. Overall, however, it is tough to offer much insight on the redshirt sophomore. Stay tuned.
Nikola Obradovic, 6-4, Guard
Everyone says the sophomore has been outstanding from the arc in the preseason, and he lived up to that Thursday. The thing is, he didn't get many attempts because he had trouble getting clean looks. I can see him getting a shot as an occasional zone-buster in the non-conference portion of the season, but wonder if he'll be able to find shots against Big Ten competition.
Mike Walker, 6-2, Guard
Speaking of outstanding shooters (awkward segue alert!), Walker fits that bill, too, but has a much more well-rounded game. He has a quick release and has gotten even better at pulling up off the dribble. DeChellis knows the junior can do good things for the Lions off the bench, and appeared to be riding him especially hard on every mistake Thursday. I think that is a good thing, too. Walker can take the criticism and knows the occasional ugly pass or missed assignment can mitigate the damage he does as a scorer.
Sophomore guards Will Leiner (6-1) and Clay Scovill (6-3) are both back to run the practice squad and provide emergency help in the backcourt. I can't say I focused on them Thursday. But I do know this: I did not see any noticeable drop in the pace of the action when they were on the floor. Both guys are on the team because they follow orders, don't make mistakes and work their tails off.
The newest addition to the team, 6-2 freshman walk-on Adam Highberger, doesn't look 6-2 to me. But he is definitely a crazy hustle type player. Though he made two turnovers in a row during one drill, it is easy to see why the coaches like him.
Milos Bogetic, 6-10, Center
Easily the best passer of the post players. He had two great backdoor assists while I was watching, one to Mooch Jackson and one to Obradovic. The sophomore still seems to be much more comfortable at the high post than down on the block and struggles in one-on-one defensive situations.
Jamelle Cornley, 6-5, Forward
Pretty much the same powerful frame you saw last season, and he is still comfortable scoring over much taller players in the paint. But he has clearly worked on his jumper. Thursday, he was consistently knocking down 17-footers. If he does that during the season, the sophomore will be very difficult to stop.
Brandon Hassell, 6-11, Forward
Has grown a couple inches and put on some great weight. Listed at 232, he can now max bench press 330, which is outstanding considering his long arms. The junior was active on the floor when I was there but he still had trouble finishing in traffic. Yet he also made a couple of 8-footers from the baseline with a hand in his face. Hassell is an enigma if there ever was one.
David Jackson (D.J.), 6-6, Forward
Much more of a pure post player than a wing. I initially thought he'd see action behind Claxton on the wing but now expect him to be more of a factor behind Cornley at power forward. The true freshman is lean but plays stronger than his 200 pounds. He is an effective scorer from eight feet and in, but don't be surprised if he gets a few shots blocked.
Andrew Jones, 6-8, Forward
Not a natural center but he'll see most of his action at the five spot, in my estimation. This true freshman is very active in the paint and does a nice job of fighting for the ball. He is not as polished offensively as Jackson but has much better size. He seemed to get pushed around a bit, even by smaller players. I'm guessing he's just now getting comfortable carrying 230-plus pounds. He also looks to be a natural shot blocker either straight up or in help situations.
Joonas Suotamo, 6-10, Forward
The sophomore is listed at 6-9. But he is clearly taller than Bogetic. He has a raw-boned quality to him but seems to be taking some time embracing power-paint moves. In one drill Thursday, Obradovic, at 6-4, tied him up while he was attempting to go strong to the hole. Conversely, he was extremely accurate from 17 feet and in, didn't seem to mind using his body on defense and ran the floor well in transition.
IF PENN STATE PLAYED TOMORROW, WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD START?
I'd say Luber, Mooch Jackson, Claxton, Cornley and Hassell, and I would be EXTREMELY confident on all of those projections except for the last one. I think Hassell will get the nod early on because he has worked so hard, and because his strength and athletic ability are so intriguing.
If someone threatened me with bodily harm unless I guessed a second team, I'd say Walker, Morrissey, Dubois, D.J. Jackson and Suotamo. Walker and Morrissey will both be big-minute guys, though.
My third team prediction would be Leiner, Scovill, Obradovic, Jones and Bogetic.
WHO CAN PSU LEAST AFFORD TO LOSE?
Claxton and Luber. No one else does what they do.
WHICH POSITION IS THE MOST FLUID?
That spot opposite Cornley in the frontcourt. This is going to be an ongoing battle between Hassell, Suotamo, Jones and Bogetic. It should make them all better.
NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN PRACTICE?
Funny you should ask. According to a source close to the team, the Nittany Lions have been bumped up to something called elite status by gear sponsor Nike. That means they get all the cool stuff the very top Nike hoop schools get.
That includes top-of-the-line basketballs, the absolute latest sneakers and high-tech new practice jerseys. The shirts are extremely light, double-sided but single ply and are said to dispense sweat more effectively than regular practice gear.
It is so cutting edge that Nike has not figured out how to produce the product in a complete range of colors yet. So one side of the jersey is blue, the other side gray (as opposed to the usual white).
OK, BUT WERE THERE ANY IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES IN PRACTICE?
There was a much faster pace than I've seen in previous years, with players sprinting from one drill to the next without having to be told. This was a real bone of contention for DeChellis when he first took over the program. Thursday, the entire operation seemed to be flowing much more efficiently than in the past.
Also, each time a group of players was forced to do sprints up and back twice everyone made it in fewer than the allotted 22 seconds on the first attempt. I had not seen that often in the past.
Finally, just the sheer numbers of athletes involved 16 jumped out at me. The days of assistant coaches and managers dressing just so the Lions can scrimmage 5-on-5 appear to be over.
BEST (REPEATABLE) LINE YOU HEARD AT PRACTICE?
That would have been when Luber fired an air ball from the left wing and a teammate grabbed the misfire and dribbled back out to reset the offense.
Without missing a beat, director of basketball ops Eldon Price shouted, Great pass, Ben.
Morrissey has changed his number from 25 to 33. He did so because he wore No. 33 through most of his career before arriving at Penn State. When he enrolled at PSU, center John Kelly was wearing the number. Kelly has since left the program. Click on his name a couple of sentences back to see where he is now (see why this Internet stuff is so much cooler than a newspaper?).
Is it me, or are head managers Pete Bordi and Adam Fisher looking to smash Dan Earl's school record for longest student tenure in the program? On a serious note, having a great crew of student managers — led by these two — is part of the reason practices go so smoothly. You get a real feel for that when sitting in on a session.
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