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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Return To Philly No Longer Outsiders

by on December 17, 2015 3:30 PM

Shep Garner remembers it like it was yesterday.

A buzzer beater that ended his season. A single point from a championship game and going home to rest and wait for another shot at glory. Garner may have only just entered the high school scene, but it was a defeat that still lingers with him to this day.

Because the Palestra only gives you so many chances.

If Madison Square Garden is the world's most historic venue the Palestra is to Philadelphia hoops and east coast basketball culture a very similar entity. It's a time machine to an era when gyms were packed to the rafters and whole communities descended down on to the arena to see games played on one of the sport's best stages. No cell phones and live tweeting, just word of mouth, the paper and stories to be told and retold time and time again.

So maybe that's why Garner still doesn't forget that loss. Another venue in another city and it's a bump in the road. All great careers come with great losses, but great losses on great stages are hard to digest.

This weekend Penn State and Garner will return to Philadelphia to face Drexel on Saturday at the Palestra. It's the third trip to the venue under Pat Chambers, the Nittany Lions a solid 1-1 coming out of those previous two trips. The rubber match may not be historic, but it's no less meaningful.

"Going back home, playing well, when I come from the area kids actually see you can actually go there and play good as a team," Garner said of Penn State's growing relevance and returning home. "It's definitely a recruiting tool, seeing that a lot of Philly guys will be there. It's great to play in front of everyone at home."

But for all of the flowery prose it is perhaps most noteworthy that Penn State makes the drive to Philadelphia this weekend a viable player in the Philadelphia recruiting scene. Chambers has turned what has once been seen as a hail mary into a recruiting pipeline. The Nittany Lions are no longer wishing to make an impact, on many fronts they're leading the charge.

Penn State won't win every recruiting battle because no program ever does, but the Nittany Lions could enter the 2016 season starting five players all from Philadelphia. It will never happen, but that's how far things have come. From the leftovers to the state's best player in Tony Carr.

"We are relevant," Chambers said. "We're a viable option now for Philadelphia basketball players. So I expect a great crowd there is a lot of buzz about the game that night. A lot of people are coming down. It should be a great day. They know who Penn State basketball is and I think that's the first time in a long time for us."

Garner has played at the Palestra countless times over the years, so Saturday isn't a chance to avenge that last second loss.

But it is a chance to write another chapter inside one of the great arenas on this planet. And that's hard to ignore.

"I'm looking forward to it," Garner said, a smile creeping across his face.



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