A Friend in Need…

After Penn State sustained its worst loss of the season last weekend, Nittany Lion coach Ed DeChellis reached out to an old buddy. You might be suprised to learn who that friend — and conference rival — was.

Penn State basketball coach Ed DeChellis is nothing if not direct. His team was slammed by Michigan State 91-64 at the Jordan Center Saturday, the 10-8 Nittany Lions' fourth straight loss. The poor performance grated on him so much that he called an old friend to get a fresh angle on the situation.

“Sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees, so I wanted to get another person's perspective,” DeChellis said. “I get my staff's, I get mine. Then 14,000 fans give me their perspective through e-mails and message boards.”

So on Sunday night, DeChellis called the architect of Penn State's destruction the previous day, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. The two remain close after meeting as assistants at their respective schools in the early 1990s.

“You know, he's a lot smarter than me,” DeChellis said with a smile. “I just said, 'Tom, tell me what you thought about our team coming into the game, the game preparation and what you were going to try to do and what you were going to try to exploit; and then I can tell you what we were trying to do so we can make this a two-way street.'

“And you know, he's been a friend forever,” DeChellis continued. “He said, 'I'll tell you exactly what I think, but let me think about it.' So he gave me his thoughts [Monday].”

If it seems odd that conference rivals talked strategy in the middle of the season, note that there are a couple of mitigating factors. This is the lone regular-season meeting between the two teams, so the only way they figure to meet again is if they draw one another in the Big Ten Tournament.

Also, Izzo has always gone out of his way to help DeChellis. When the former was the head coach at East Tennessee State, the Spartans actually traveled to Johnson City to play a game. Meanwhile, after MSU's big win Saturday, Izzo was asked if he had empathy for DeChellis.

“Yeah, I have a lot of it because I love the guy,” Izzo said. “He's what basketball is all about, and he's doing a good job. They're one more recruiting class — a few more players — away from being really good.”

Unfortunately for DeChellis, while the discussion with Izzo served as a morale booster, his peer did not shed any new light on what is ailing the Nittany Lions.

“I was hoping he would,” DeChellis said.

Penn State is in a difficult spot defensively because its guards are not athletic enough to play man-to-man defense against most teams on the schedule. So the Lions play 90 percent zone, which becomes an issue when opponents heat up from the arc, as recent foes Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State all did.

“[Izzo] said, 'I'd play zone just like you tried to, because we haven't been shooting the ball well,' ” DeChellis said. “… He said sometimes you run into situations where people play extremely well. He thought his team played really, really, well; that's the best they've shot it.”

DeChellis repeatedly mentioned that he reached out to Izzo not looking for validation for what the Nittany Lion staff was doing, but rather to see if there was anything obvious they were missing. He wanted to “ask someone else their opinion, someone who has done this, who has won national championships and been to the Final Four and has his program rolling.”

After Izzo finished talking, DeChellis asked, “anything else?”

The response.

“There wasn't anything Earth-shattering,” DeChellis said.


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