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Penn State Basketball: Lessons Learned With Franklin Still Apply As Chambers Builds With Youth

by on December 11, 2016 2:00 PM

For the better part of the past two years fans and to a certain extent the media have rolled their collective eyes as James Franklin repeatedly cited youth as one of the many reasons why the program hadn't taken noticeable strides forward.

Everyone probably believed him, but it was a tiresome truth to trot out after games where that seemed to have little to do with the loss.

The improvement was there, but behind-the-scenes progress only carries so much weight with the general public. At some point it just comes down to winning.

While Penn State's success in 2016 is above and beyond even what Franklin expected, his general thesis was proven correct. The 2016 Penn State football story isn't one of five-star talent showing up on campus. It's second and third year guys having the light turn on. It's the Mike Gesicki 180. It's DeAndre Thompkins gaining confidence. Little things, but meaningful things happening to guys just getting older.

Sure, the offensive scheme changed, but at the end of the day it came down to younger players finally getting the meaningful reps they needed in games and in practice. You can't take a shortcut, especially not if you want sustained success.

“What I would say is that I can’t make my freshmen sophomores and I can’t make my freshmen juniors,” Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers said after the loss to George Mason last week. “This is a process and we are in the thick of this process. For four games, we have masked some of our weaknesses and tonight when you play against a little bit of an older team with two seniors, it showed our weaknesses. We have to continue to work and come back to practice tomorrow and get better.”

Reasonably speaking you can explain away most of Penn State's losses this season. This particular team is a bizarre mixture of things: Youth that has never played Division I basketball coupled with veterans good at very specific tasks. Josh Reaves is an energy guy who will do all of the dirty work, but he isn't a bulk scorer. Shep Garner is Penn State's best shooter but he's streaky at best, at least historically. Julian Moore is talented on the offensive end but has been an early liability on defense. Payton Banks is far and away the team's best three point shooter but doesn't have the overwhelming athleticism of his counterparts. 

So Penn State is sitting at an odd crossroads where the Nittany Lions are clearly talented but they're inexperienced, and they're learning on the job. The result has been a predictable ride of good moments and bad ones. Good wins and head scratching performances.

And it all comes back to youth.

There will be and already is in certain circles, a rising of pitchforks. Penn State has been waiting years for these players to arrive on campus and the early returns have been uninspiring.

But that doesn't mean they're unexpected.

There was really no reason to think that Penn State basketball was going to come out of the gates just blowing teams away. These freshman are good, but they're still the middle third of the nation's best in their recruiting class. They might be the best ever by Penn State's standards but for as legitimately good as Tony Carr is (and he's very good) he wasn't going to show up and drop 40 points every night and hand out 15 assists. He was going to be a part in a larger whole that grew over the course of time.

That span has only just begun. Chambers and his staff have built a foundation, now they have to build the first floor. The past five years have given them the right to finally take a step forward, so the clock is at zero.

It doesn't excuse Chambers for hiccups along the way, and his wiggle room may only extend a season or two more, but his tune isn't that much different than the one Franklin has been singing the past few years.

And that seems to have turned out okay.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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