The Penn State men's basketball team returned to the hardwood this afternoon to practice for the first time since Sunday afternoon's critical 65-41 win against Northwestern at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Once again, however, it was not the ideal hardwood.
After being pushed out of the Bryce Jordan Center for practices last week in advance of their game at Michigan State last Thursday - due to the Bryce Jordan Center becoming rehearsal space for Bon Jovi's tour - the Nittany Lions continue to face scheduling conflicts with practice time in their home arena.
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Like last week, the team practiced this afternoon not on the main arena floor of the BJC, or in the South Gym - the practice facility in the BJC for both the men's and women's teams - but instead, across the street at Penn State's Intramural Building in what until a month ago had been exclusively a volleyball only gym.
While clearly, an effort was made to convert the gym into a practice facility and involved installing six retractable hoops, the end result demands questioning.
Hoops that had been visibly lower than regulation height last week appeared to be rectified at today's practice, but once again, one of the peripheral hoops remained cockeyed (as pictured), and, multiple holes for volleyball net stanchions needed to be taped over as to prevent tripping over their caps.
The idea that a Division I basketball team has been forced out of its gym during a critical stretch run for the program, not only for concert rehearsal space at the beginning of the month, but for this week's career fair, as well as THON later this week, once again demonstrates the university administration's lack of dedication to producing a quality program.
Certainly, in using a multi-purpose facility like the BJC, adjustments must be made to accommodate the various functions of the building for the university and community as a whole. Yet, coming from an administration that claims to support fully a successful men's basketball program, this abomination is the strongest indictment yet, and only furthers the argument that it in fact does not.
And, as head coach Ed DeChellis revealed this afternoon, it should be noted that Coquese Washington and the women's team must deal with the same obstacles during their practice session tomorrow afternoon.
Beyond the physical obstacles created by the gym conditions of the IM Building, DeChellis and his squad had other outside factors to deal with as well.
Knowing that nothing could be done to change the reality of having to practice at the IM Building, today, the debate centered around whether to view film in preparation of Thursday night's game against Minnesota before or after practice, because the team needed to be finished by 5:30 p.m. because the IM Building also had scheduled other activities for 6 p.m. today.
"We're trying to figure out whether to watch tape before we practice or after we practice. Will we have enough time on the practice floor? But, in the same sense, a couple of the staff guys said, We have to see it before we go over there and do it because they won't get it, they won't understand. It's the first time we played Minnesota," he said at his noon press conference today. "If we had played them before, it's a little easier, OK, remember this, and it all comes back to them. But, this is the first time we play. It's a 30-40 minute presentation before we play them and I'm not there yet whether we watch tape before in our film room and then walk over, or, go practice, and then bring them back after, let them shower up and watch tape after we watch practice.
"So, I'm still tugging with that. Then, the actual practice tape at the IM building is a little bit challenging to watch because the film angle and the lighting, more guarding Minnesota stuff, we like to break that down tonight after we actually did it on the floor so we can show the kids tomorrow. Hey, this is how you guard them. Hey, this is good, this is not so good, but it's hard to see over there, and it's nobody's fault, it's just the lighting with the floor and the reflection. All we see when we tape it is lights that shine back up off the floor. It's just the way that it is. It's nobody's deal, it's just the lighting situation."
While the team will practice in the South Gym on Wednesday, it will return for a final practice at the IM Building on Friday before traveling to Wisconsin on Saturday and practicing there in preparation for its game against the Badgers on Sunday.
Making matters worse, Penn State's student section, the Nittany Nation, is not expected to be out in full force for Thursday night's critical match-up against Minnesota.
With THON this weekend, early indications are that many students participating, including a substantial portion of the Greek community, aren't expected to attend the 7 p.m. game, leaving open the strong possibility of a poorly attended home game... one the Lions absolutely must have if an NCAA berth is to remain a possibility down the stretch run.
In spite of everything, there was some good news for the Lions today.
After Monday's rest, both senior guard Talor Battle and senior forward Jeff Brooks claimed to be healthy coming off their ankle and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Posted below is the full transcript from DeChellis' press conference this afternoon.
How much different is your defense when Jeff Brooks is on the floor as opposed to when he's not?
DeChellis: I think he's a long guy and poses some problems and matchups as well, and then he's our leading shot blocker, so he can come from the weak side and then change some shots, which is important for us. He's our leading rebounder. I think defensively, that's part of it is that he can get to the glass and he's pretty quick to the glass and can rebound the basketball. That will be an important staple here Thursday night.
How different has Minnesota been with Hoffarber back at point?
DeChellis: They're different. There's no question about that. They're playing different guys. They've started a big lineup with Mbakwe, Sampson and Iverson. The last game, they played all zone with Rodney Williams out there, who is 6-6, and Hoffarber at the other guard spot. They played some zone, they're really long, active, and so it was a challenge for Iowa to score. Then they've played the other freshman kid comes in, and so they'll play what I call regular - two guards, then Rodney Williams at the three spot and then Sampson and Mbakwe at four and five. I think they're different. In terms of Hoffarber's gotta try to pass it and get off the ball to get his shots, rather than Nolen driving and pitching it to him. So that's been a little different adjustment for him. But his threes are still pretty high. He's still shooting almost six a game. So, he's still getting 3-point shots. They've just adjusted to get those shots for him through the post. So, the post guys are sort of being the facilitators of the ball, and they're getting in high low action, and they're finding him on the weakside of the floor. Or, once he gets the ball up, now he's coming off staggered screens or flare screens to catch and shoot the ball.
So, defensively for you guys?
DeChellis: Well, we're still trying to figure that out defensively. I don't know how they're going to play. They're either going to play big or they're going to play a normal squad, because if they play big, it's a challenge for one of our small guards to guard Rodney Williams at times. But, yeah, they've gotta guard us down on the other end too, so, we'll have to see how it plays out.
When you play a team with this length, what are some of the keys - I assume rebounding, keeping them off the offensive glass?
DeChellis: Well, I think they're leading the league in blocked shots. So, you can't drive to score over them. Our guards have to understand that they have to drive to pitch. They've gotta drive and kick to make an extra pass, and then shot fake that guy and drive. We have to do a good job of understanding when we can take it in there and when we can't take it in there because they're the biggest front line in the league. Maybe in the country. When they play those three guys together, it's 6-8, 6-9, 7-foot, 7-foot, and then Rodney Williams is a two-guard at 6-6, 6-7. So, it's a pretty big squad. So, you have to use your smarts a little bit about shotfaking it and driving the basketball and pitching it. Sure, you'd like to take it inside and create some contact and get to the free throw line, so it has to be a fine line when you're going to drive the ball and when you're going to pitch the ball.
Can Tim be the facilitator of that?
DeChellis: Well, if he drives to pitch. If he tries to drive to score, he won't be a facilitator. He'll be a guy that gets his shot blocked and then that starts their break. So, he has to understand that in the next two days, that you're not scoring over these guys. You're just not. You may think you are, you may have an avenue to the basket, but somebody is coming from the weakside to change your shot or block your shot, and then that starts the break for them down on the other end.
Have you been pleased with his play lately and his progression this season?
DeChellis: Well, I thought he was OK the other day against Northwestern. He didn't play very well against Michigan State, and he'll be the first one to tell you that. He was 0-for-7. He didn't play well offensively at all. But defensively, I thought he was pretty good against Northwestern, and he made his free throws, which were really important. So, I thought he was better.
Have guys helped him out when he's driving the lane so they're at the right spot and ready for the pass?
DeChellis: Yeah, but sometimes you gotta get the ball to the guy where he can score with it and not put him in jail, as I call it, as well. Sometimes, you drive and you get it to him, but he's in jail and he can't go anywhere with it either. So, it's not that he's not trying to drive and create, but sometimes the play is out rather than a down low pass. He had one at Northwestern, which was very nice, but we have to watch the drive, the pitch, pitch out, shot fake, drive, rather than sometimes drive and you're trying to make some bounce pass in there around other guys. He's not going to do anything with it either. So, it makes it a little more challenging.
How did Talor's ankle respond after the game?
DeChellis: He was good. We were off yesterday, so that was a good day of rest, so hopefully he'll be back to normal.
You talked Sunday about Northwestern being a game that you had to have, do you treat every game like that now?
DeChellis: Yeah, I think these are all - as I look around the country and you follow different schools and teams and see where people are at, I think February is... I think they're all NCAA games. Everybody is trying to make their mark, everybody is trying to improve their resume, and they're all NCAA games. That's why it's high-level, high-intensity. Everybody has four, five or six games left, and if they play well down the stretch, that helps their cause, and if they don't, then it kills your cause and you don't have to worry about anything else, so these are all, in my opinion, these are all NCAA Tournament games in the second half of February and the first week of March, the games are heightened in terms of their importance of what you're trying to do.
Do you think being a bubble team a few years ago helped you at all for this stretch run?
DeChellis: I think they understand the importance of each game. They understand that they had to have Sunday for Thursday to matter. You gotta get Thursday now. You took care of Sunday, now you gotta get Thursday. I tell them, you gotta win the next game. We gotta win one more game. That's all we gotta win is one more game. And then you can hopefully build on it. But, each game is very, very important to what you're trying to do. Now, whether that translates from two years ago to today, I don't know.
With everyone in the league at six wins, is that almost advantageous to say, OK, you control your...?
DeChellis: Yeah, you control your own destiny. I think some people look at the one-plays. Really, when you break them all down, and we have, they're really interesting. Some people on paper, I don't know if it's true, on paper, maybe have an easier avenue than some other teams. But, you're hoping, and I don't know if it matters or not, but you're hoping that when people look at all those things and they go, OK, these teams' one-plays versus these teams' one-plays within the league, their strength of schedule within the league and their strength of schedule overall. You hope somewhere along the way that comes into play.
Is it nice to not have to worry about strength of schedule and RPI this year like you did two years ago? Is that a comfort, or does that not become a comfort until you have those wins?
DeChellis: Yeah, I don't think anything is comfortable on February 15th. I'm not real comfortable, and I don't think anybody is. It's not just me sitting here today. I think everybody around the country, other than maybe the couple of teams in our league who are at the top of the charts - a Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State - they're comfortable, but I don't think anybody else is real comfortable. I hate to speak for anybody else, but you look at the numbers and look where they are, that's not just our league, look at leagues across the country. Other than the ACC, maybe the two teams that are at the top of the ACC, I think everybody else is not real comfortable. You've got work to do, that's why that second half of February, first week of March, they're all NCAA Tournament games. That pressure, they're all like NCAA Tournament game pressure.
Do you ever look back at some of the missed opportunities, and do you dwell on those?
DeChellis: Well, you think about them. It's ironic you said that. You have some games that you hope you could play better and win. You have some games where you played pretty well and something didn't go well for you at the end and you lose, that you'd like to have them back. I'm hoping somewhere everything sort of evens out. And so, hey, you had one at Purdue you could have gotten and didn't, and one at Ohio State you could have gotten and didn't. We don't have Jeff for Michigan and you don't get it. And you hope somewhere along the way, some of these things even out, because you can't go back and change anything, but when you look at it, Darn... that call would have went the other way, we had the ball, maybe we win that thing, and then that gives you more momentum. But, hey, it didn't, and you gotta go fight your way through it.
Coming into the year, a lot of the talk was about the strength and depth of the conference. Has that held up? Do you feel that way?
DeChellis: I do, because we're all beating each other up. If the strength of the league was just three teams, we wouldn't have this big logjam in the middle of the league. I think it's been very, very difficult. Even teams that... Indiana, it's no fun going to Indiana. 17,000-18,000 people. You better bring it, because their crowds affect everything they do. Iowa has played up and down, but I don't think anybody says, Hey, I want to go to Iowa to play. And, I think everybody else has been pretty consistent and pretty tough to play. The league has been just a long, long grind, and hopefully we've got some more time left in this, but the league has been very, very good, even though maybe some teams haven't - for instance, Michigan State hasn't won as many games. I just think that's the league. That's part of it too. I think Illinois, I think it's the league and when you play them. It's challenging.
Have there been things you've had to change about practice over there once practice starts?
DeChellis: Yeah, I think we're trying to debate today whether to get off... we have to be off of there at 5:30 today because they have some events after starting at six or something. So, we're trying to debate whether to watch tape. We're trying to figure out whether to watch tape before we practice or after we practice. Will we have enough time on the practice floor. But, in the same sense, a couple of the staff guys said, We have to see it before we go over there and do it because they won't get it, they won't understand. It's the first time we played Minnesota. If we had played them before, it's a little easier, OK, remember this, and it all comes back to them. But, this is the first time we play. It's a 30-40 minute presentation before we play them and I'm not there yet whether we watch tape before in our film room and then walk over, or, go practice, and then bring them back after, let them shower up and watch tape after we watch practice. So, I'm still tugging with that. Then, the actual practice tape at the IM building is a little bit challenging to watch because the film angle and the lighting, more guarding Minnesota stuff, we like to break that down tonight after we actually did it on the floor so we can show the kids tomorrow. Hey, this is how you guard them. Hey, this is good, this is not so good, but it's hard to see over there, and it's nobody's fault, it's just the lighting with the floor and the reflection. All we see when we tape it is lights that shine back up off the floor. It's just the way that it is. It's nobody's deal, it's just the lighting situation.
Are there any other teams in the conference with this type of multi-purpose facilities that you've sought out advice from?
DeChellis: I don't know. I have not spoken to them. But, Iowa's got the same situation I think. Iowa doesn't even have a practice facility. They are building, it's not done yet, it'll be real nice for them but it's not done. It's close, but they don't have a practice facility, and Michigan doesn't have a practice facility. They're building one as well, but I don't know what they do. They can practice in their own facility though, I don't know. It's not my deal. I've got my own issues.
Where do you guys practice tomorrow?
DeChellis: South gym. The girls have it today, we have it tomorrow, and we play Thursday. The career fair is here today and tomorrow. Friday we're back to the IM building because of THON, and then Saturday we are flying to Wisconsin to practice there.
So how many days have you been on the main floor the last month?
DeChellis: I haven't kept track. We played there three games. But, I don't know. I haven't kept track.
Can you bring anyone in recruiting wise this spring?
DeChellis: Yes. We're one under, so we've got one for sure. So, we're out looking around at guys. Always. It never ends.
The one football recruit, Oakman, said he's interested in playing...
DeChellis: I haven't heard from the young guy. I haven't heard anybody from football. I haven't heard that. Somebody else mentioned that to me, but I haven't heard that. That's down the road.