D.J. Newbill hadn't played on a level like this before.
That didn't mean he couldn't have fun, though. Invited to participate at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas two weeks ago, Newbill found himself among the elite 30 players in all of men's college basketball.
Not that he didn't belong.
Coming off a junior season at Penn State in which he averaged 17.8 points per game, finishing second in the Big Ten in scoring while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors, Newbill has already established his playing credentials. Still, playing point guard for the camp's first two days before spending time as a two guard in the second half, what he said identified was a lesson beyond the simple ability to measure himself against his competition.
"When you're playing in those settings, you've got five guys who are the 'man' for their schools and for their programs," Newbill said. "So now you're kind of bringing them all together, putting them on one court and you're telling them to go out and play together.
"So for me, what I was trying to focus on was just talking to the guys, getting them on the same page - Learning all their names was one of them - and, just keeping us in a team aspect, not just a one-on-one, individual kind of thing."
In what might be his biggest challenge yet, Newbill's experience was not all that unlike what he's facing back in Happy Valley.
Though Newbill isn't surrounded by talent on the level of a national invitation-only summer camp, in the absence of graduated fifth-year senior point guard Tim Frazier, the Philadelphia product is now unquestionably "the man."
Using his well-earned credentials as an incredibly hard worker on the team, the group of Nittany Lions that will accompany Newbill for his final season in blue and white is simultaneously experienced and loaded with fresh, young talent. While important past decisions included Frazier and head coach Patrick Chambers, Newbill said that the captain mentality is largely boiling down solely to him.
With teammates falling in line behind that new reality, Newbill said the transition has been distinctly different, yet smooth.
"There's more pressure, but I think the group of guys that we have, so far they've been making my job easier," he said. "Just because guys listen and respect me. I guess they appreciate that the way I'm coming at them is to see them do good, not to just try to put my authority on them."
As for the basketball itself, Newbill is looking forward to a role that will likely see him splitting time as a point guard and two guard in Chambers' mix-and-match offense. Having played the point all summer, Newbill said the distinction is somewhat irrelevant. Said Newbill, "The way our offense is, it's ball screens, isos, it really doesn't make a difference."
Welcoming juco transfer point guard Devin Foster to the mix this spring, Newbill said he's got big expectations for the Vincennes University product, but will also expect to see John Johnson and Geno Thorpe share some of the ball handling responsibilities this season as well.
Intensely looking forward to the season ahead, Newbill said the camp experience was something he'll use to spur on his development as the summer progresses.
"The basketball experience was great. Just to get up and go against the top guys in the country, for me as a competitor, that's what I want," he said. "Kind of to measure myself, and also to get a chance to go at guys who I know are high-ranked or highly-talented."
Regarding Foster, a juco Second-Team All-American last season, said Newbill, "He's ready physically, mentally. He's not a young buck. He's not new. He's been around and has a little bit of experience, and that's one of the things that we can use, a guy with experience on the ball, can make plays, can make plays for himself and plays with toughness. He's got a chip on his shoulder. I definitely appreciate him coming in."