Penn State Basketball: La Salle Meeting Not Short on Significance
Penn State has never been the darling of Pennsylvania hoops.
With a limited talent pool to the west and the cloud of Big East and Atlantic 10 hoops to the east, the Nittany Lions have, for the most part, conceded to picking out what they can and watching the majority of the state's hoops talent playing for teams such as Villanova or Temple.
Connections are everything, and without them, the keys to the hoops kingdom of Philadelphia have been locked away, out of reach to those in Happy Valley.
When Penn State hired men's head coach Patrick Chambers, it changed things. A student under basketball legend Herb Magee during his playing time at Philadelphia University, and an eventual associate head coach under Villanova's Jay Wright, Chambers is connected to many basketball niches in the city.
"I've loved him ever since he's played for me," Magee said following a preseason exhibition against Penn State earlier this year. "I wouldn't be surprised that he'll have a good rate of success up here, if he turned this thing around and was really good in the next couple years."
Since his hiring, Chambers hasn't been shy about his goals. He intends to recruit smartly and to beat out programs with more tradition for some of the state's best talent. Chambers is too smart to single out or neglect a city publicly, but the first step to achieving that goal is getting the Nittany Lion paw print inside of the minds of Philadelphia hoopers.
Early in his tenure he has been true to his word, and Monday night the Nittany Lions added Philadelphia native and Pitt transfer guard John Johnson to the fold, according to several recruiting outlets. Penn State confirmed the roster addition on Tuesday morning. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound guard marks the fifth player recruited by Chambers on the 2013 roster hailing from within an hour's ride or less of Philadelphia. Geno Thorpe will also join the team in 2013 as one of Pittsburgh's most touted high school guards.
On the scheduling front, the Nittany Lions have faced eight in-state schools in the nonconference schedule during the first two years of Chambers' tenure at Penn State.
"It's not so much Philadelphia," Chambers said Monday. "We have to win the state. We're in the middle of the state. We've got Pittsburgh and Philly and all the other surrounding areas to make sure we get the best players available. Win or lose Wednesday, we have to continue to recruit in there. The Big Ten is a heck of a conference. Now it's expanding to the East Coast and I think that opens more doors. I think we've done a good job winning the state the past year, year and a half."
As Penn State slowly works toward being a legitimate destination for in-state hoops talent, Wednesday's nationally televised game against La Salle becomes as symbolic as it does important. The game will be played at the Palestra, a sort of hoops mecca for the city. At the same time, Villanova and Temple will be facing off across the city, a display of the type of programs Penn State would like to model.
"I've never coached as a head coach at the Palestra," Chambers said, smiling like Christmas had arrived a few days early. "I'll give the guys a tour around, to see the pictures. I think it's important that they understand that the building that they're playing in has a lot of nostalgia.
"When you grow up as a kid, and your dad and your brothers go to games, you want to play there, you want to be a part of that history, be on that floor with a packed house. There is so much tradition there, so much rich tradition there when it comes to college basketball. It's an amazing feeling."