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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Battling Through Growing Pains

by on January 17, 2012 7:22 PM

Few teams in the country lost more over the summer than Penn State.

A class of seniors that had anchored the program for four years? Gone.

The school's all-time leading scorer? Gone.

Now, add a new head coach to the equation and a few freshmen. Then put them in the best conference in the country. The result, which is Penn State basketball circa 2012 -- one of the youngest, most inexperienced teams in the Big Ten.

Inexperienced or not, first-year coach Pat Chambers isn't letting off the gas.

If you've ever met Chambers, you can feel the energy pouring out of him. If you've ever heard about his practices, you know he expects his players to bring that same energy until -- finally, mercifully --h e blows the final whistle.

Even so, Chambers understands the difficult transition between high school and college, and the feeling that accompanies being a bench player when all you've ever been is a full-time starter.

"I don't think they've ever worked this hard here. They're working harder than they've ever worked before," Chambers said. "It's a lot to handle."

This season, nine Nittany Lions have averaged 10 or more minutes a game. It's a depth that many teams would envy, but it comes with a catch: Only three of those nine players have ever played substantial minutes of major college basketball. The steep learning curve that comes with physical Big Ten Conference play has been the biggest factor in Penn State's struggles this season.

The Nittany Lions are 9-10 overall with only one victory in conference play. However, unlike in some years past, the effort and hard work have allowed Penn State to stay competitive in almost every game. With the final leg of conference play coming up, Chambers is hoping that the hard work will start to pay off.

"You know I'm never at a loss for words," Chambers said, laughing. "But I'm at a loss for words with how we play sometimes. They play so hard in practice -- it's just the youth and inexperience of game minutes.

"These guys want to win. I'm very demanding. Even when I was (an assistant coach) at Villanova, we always finished real strong. January in to February. We always finished strong."

Thursday night, Penn State will have the opportunity to continue Chambers' trend of strong finishes. A 9 p.m. tip in Bryce Jordan Center against a ranked team in Illinois that has many of the same characteristics as the Nittany Lions could be just what a a hungry and hard-working team needs.

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