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March 23, 2011This afternoon, the media reconvened with head coach Ed DeChellis for an opportunity to talk about the season that was, the graduation of his all-time leading scorer Talor Battle, the futures for all of his seniors, and what lies ahead for this program next season, not only in personnel, but also scheduling.
In fact, scheduling brought some of the biggest news as DeChellis revealed that his Nittany Lions will indeed participate in next year's Hall of Fame Tip-Off, taking on Radford and 2011 NCAA Tournament automatic qualifier Long Island University before traveling to Uncansville, Conn., to take on Kentucky (Nov. 19) at Mohegan Sun Arena. The winner will face the Old Dominion vs. South Florida champ, with the losers playing in a consolation game.
Following their NCAA Tournament appearance this season, DeChellis now has some more options to work with for the two or three games left to schedule on his non-conference slate.
"Ernie (Nestor)was up here this morning early looking at some teams' RPIs, strength of schedules, because people want to play and we want to play other people, but it's what they have coming back and how strong they're going to be, and that's why we thought it was important to play Kentucky... They'll be all right. I hope Cal can bring it... Because we're only going to play certain teams next year one time," DeChellis said, noting that the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten will alter next year's conference schedule.
"We have four one-plays next year rather than this year we had two one-plays, and depending on who you get, it can affect your strength of schedule within your league and overall RPI, so that's something we need to be aware of as well. And we'll hopefully get those sometime in the spring and the full Big Ten schedule in August."
In other news, the saga of Taran Buie's career at Penn State still has not reached a resolution.
According to DeChellis, he still has not met with the true freshman, who was the Nittany Lions' fourth-leading scorer before being indefinitely suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules in late December.
Of course, Buie's future has everything to do with what Penn State looks for toward the tail end of its recruiting effort for the class of 2011. With one scholarship available, DeChellis said that he was looking for a perimeter player, although not necessarily a true guard. The junior college ranks were rumored to be a strong option for the NIttany Lions, but DeChellis indicated that he and his coaching staff didn't "fall in love" with many prospects at that level.
When asked how he's going to frame the upcoming season, whether it will be a rebuilding year, or something else, DeChellis noted the uncertainty and excitement that comes with having such an inexperienced team filling in for four seniors who all averaged 30-plus minutes per game this season.
"I think we'll be young. We'll have guys that will be in some unfamiliar spots," he said. "I think our recruiting class is going to be good for us. They all had great years. Trey (Lewis) is still playing in the big game this weekend in Columbus. Peter Alexis just finished up. They just got beat but he had a great year and so did Ross Travis, who just got beat in the playoffs and had a great year. Pat Ackerman has been done for a while because they have a different playoff system, but I think our four kids that we've got will all be able to contribute to what we need to do.
"I think Jon Graham will be able to contribute. He really made great progress redshirting. We're going to be young at different spots but I'm looking forward to it because sometimes when people say you're young or inexperienced, you have one starter back, that's the challenge of coaching."
Of those challenges, finding the next group of leaders could prove to be the most difficult. Time is of the essence however.
DeChellis noted that the process will play itself out naturally before he needs to cultivate and grow leaders, depending on what happens this spring and summer.
"Sometimes you just never know. I think Tim (can be a strong personality). I think he has been a vocal guy in many ways, and some other guys, you just don't know," he said. "It's hard I think for underclassmen when we had such a strong group of seniors who had been around and two fifth-year guys, it's hard for them to exert themselves. Now I'm anxious to see when they aren't around, who kind of naturally... I'll let it go for a while and see who naturally kind of pulls everybody together.
"I'll say, OK, we're going to play a pickup game tomorrow at 3:15 and we'll kind of bounce around down here and see who is kind of getting guys organized. Because, before, it was the seniors and everybody kind of fell in place. Now the door is open and I know Tim Frazier will, but I want to see who else steps up."
To read the entire transcript of DeChellis' press conference, look below.
What did getting to the NCAA Tournament mean to the program?
DeChellis: Well, it's very, very important. I think that's sort of the measuring stick now in college basketball. But it's very hard getting to the NCAA Tournament. As I look at some of the teams that were left out of the NIT field, I realize how two years ago we were fortunate to play in the NIT and make it to the finals and win the whole thing. I look at some teams that didn't make the NCAA tournament. I talked to my colleagues the last three or four days and, we expand the tournament by a few teams and it just seems like it gets harder and harder every year to make the tournament. I feel a great happiness for our players, our seniors who have put so much energy and effort into the program. For those guys to experience the tournament, to sit in the room and wait for our name to come up on the board, and their energy and excitement and enthusiasm was worth all the hard work and energy that we all put into this program.
How do you see the experience of making the tournament helping the younger guys next year?
DeChellis: I think the experience of not only the tournament, but the pressure that you have to play under throughout the Big Ten season, but the last two weeks, there were games where we all knew it sitting in the lockerroom and I said to them in preparation for games, We gotta have these games. Here's what we have left, and we gotta have this one, this one, this one... You have to have them all. But, I think the pressure of playing in that arena is something the young kids now have a better understanding of. I think the desire and determination they saw in the seniors, this being their last time and the competitiveness and attention to detail they had, there were some times in practice the last week where the seniors would pop up to a younger guy and say, You've gotta get yourself focused today. You're not with it. The intensity of practice, the intensity of the games, the intensity of preparation. I think our young kids are really going to value from that and they see what it's all about.
What did Tim's performance at the end of the season show you guys?
DeChellis: Timmy played well down the stretch and he's the reason we had success. He made baskets for us, his assist to turnover ratio was very good. He was really upset, he didn't play well against Ohio State here and he was determined the next day. He came in and continued to work and he was very, very good for us. He was very good in the Big Ten Tournament run. I think he played with a lot of confidence, a lot of energy, and I think he had a very good year for us.
Was there a point where the light went on for him?
DeChellis: No, I think it was just a confidence thing for him. I think he just made some baskets in the game and felt better about himself and he worked after practice almost every day or before practice shooting the basketball and had some success. Sometimes you just have to have some success. I think his assist to turnover ratio for the most part was good all year, but he hadn't made shots and I think once he started making some baskets, he just played with a different spark in his step. That's what it's about. Sometimes you've just gotta make some baskets to give yourself some more confidence.
How do you think he'll handle taking over with Talor gone?
DeChellis: I think he'll be fine. I just talked to him yesterday. He's looking forward to it, looking forward to spring workouts. He's the point guard all year and I think he'll have to develop over the spring and summer in terms of leadership because when you have the ball in your hands and you are the point guard and you have to run the team, certain responsibilities come with it. It was a tough year for him because I was on him because I think he needed to play at a level for us to do what we did. So it was a constant, every day in practice, and I knew there were some times where he was just... I was very, very demanding of him, but there was a reason for it, and the reason was we needed him to play better for our team to play better.
The last three or four weeks were really a grind. At any time over the last few days, did you just sit back and reflect? Do you give yourself some time now to recharge your batteries?
DeChellis: I hope sometime soon. I was up at 3:10 this morning thinking about some different things I had to get done this week. My daughter is having a baby Friday morning, so my wife was up and I was up and I haven't had that opportunity yet. I'm hoping sometime in May that we can go away, just her and I, and we can settle back and maybe have an adult beverage and sit and count the waves somewhere. And I say that because you need to decompress, but we're not there yet. We've got some things to do, so when the time comes to decompress, hopefully we'll be able to step back and take a look at it and say some good things. My colleagues all call and say it's unbelievable... this that or whatever. It's good, but I haven't gotten there yet.
Up at three because of basketball or family?
DeChellis: Both. Basketball, I just wanted to get some stuff done this week and next week we go to Houston for the Final Four, so I'm trying to put a bunch of different things together. The season is over basketball-wise, but the season is just getting cranked up for other things that we have to do. I've gotta finish scheduling. We've got some scheduling we've gotta get done now which gets harder now because we had some success. Individual workouts I want to get started next week and strength training, I went through that this morning. I brought a folder of stuff home that I hadn't really done in two or three weeks, and I was just going through all of those types of things too.
Do you think making the tournament takes some pressure off you?
DeChellis: We'll all do it again next year. You'll give me a reprieve for a couple months here until I see you again in the fall sometime, but I think everybody wants to get back to the tournament and so do we, and we want to continue to do good things. So, we'll try to continue to do good things.
Now that the season is over, can you say what the status of Taran will be for the future?
DeChellis: I don't know. I haven't sat down with him yet. I really don't know.
How do you frame next year? Do you consider it rebuilding?
DeChellis: I think we'll be young. We'll have guys that will be in some unfamiliar spots. I think our recruiting class is going to be good for us. They all had great years. Trey is still playing in the big game this weekend in Columbus. Peter Alexis just finished up. They just got beat but he had a great year and so did Ross Travis, who just got beat in the playoffs and had a great year. Pat Ackerman has been done for a while because they have a different playoff system, but I think our four kids that we've got will all be able to contribute to what we need to do. I think Jon Graham will be able to contribute. He really made great progress redshirting. We're going to be young at different spots but I'm looking forward to it because sometimes when people say you're young or inexperienced, you have one starter back, that's the challenge of coaching.
Do you go into the final recruiting period thinking you have one or two scholarships?
DeChellis: I've just gotta make that decision once I talk to (Taran). I haven't done that yet.
I guess the thought is striking while the iron's hot.
DeChellis: Well yeah, we're out there, but there's a time where we're dead too. So we're not allowed off-campus until the Friday after the Final Four. So, we really can't go anywhere so there's time before we decide what we want to do.
Will you initiate that discussion with Taran? Have you set anything up?
DeChellis: Yeah, not yet. Nope. I've had other things I wanted to make sure I got done this week and there's time for that.
What are you chasing after for that last scholarship? A guard?
DeChellis: Yeah, perimeter. I don't know if it's a guard. It's a perimeter player, somebody who can play out there, whether it's a wing. Preferably somebody who can score. We need points, so somebody who can score.
How much has Talor grown since the first day you met him to today?
DeChellis: From a sapling into a tree. He was a young guy who came in... First of all, you have the mental part of growing up and maturing, of what this is all about, because everybody from high school comes in and thinks that I did this in high school, I'll be able to do this. And then you have the mental part of that. And then the physical part of it. Stronger, tougher, body-wise and thicker and then you have the understanding of the game. I think there's three different parts. There's a mental toughness, physical toughness, then the understanding of the game. He was a sapling and he's blossomed into a tree because he's one of the best players in the Big Ten and one of the best players in the country. The all-time leading scorer here, and he's done great things. So, I think the numbers speak for themselves. He was just up in the office yesterday, and we were just talking about some of these exact things and where he goes from here and what his next adventure may be. But I remember the first couple of games, he was like 1 for 20 shooting the ball down in Disney World. We played doo doo and got beat and come home and he was just so upset with himself, he couldn't make a basket. I was just like, They'll come. The baskets will come. I was just like, I hope they come. Now he's the all-time leading scorer, so, the baskets came. It's just maturity and development. He did a great job.
What do you think his chances are of getting to the NBA?
DeChellis: I think his chances are good. I think it's with the right team, right situation. As you talk to colleagues in the business, it's like anything else. It's like recruiting. I like this guy, that guy doesn't like this guy. A lot of guys think this guy can do well and don't think that guy can do well. I think it's the right team, and I think that goes for a lot of players. He's gotta have the ball in his hands. He's gotta be a kid that has the ball in his hands, but he can make other guys better. And, he's a competitive, competitive guy. And if he gets that opportunity, he'll make the best of the opportunity.
What has it meant to have him as the face of the program as a player?
DeChellis: I think he's handled that with great dignity and respect of his teammates, of our program. There's some things he doesn't want to do anymore. He just wants to take a step back and let the other guys handle some of this stuff, but I think he's always been a kid that whatever we've asked him to do, he's done. There's some tough nights he had to come in here when we didn't play well as a team or he didn't play well individually and he just sucked it up and did it. I think on campus he's been a great ambassador for our program. I think he's been a great student athlete. I think he's been a great student here at Penn State and he's always been a humble kid, but a confident guy. But, he always had time for other people and I never had to worry about him fitting his head through the door. He was always a kid that was pretty well grounded and stayed that way and was very humble.
Did you ever think when you were recruiting him that he could live up to what he's done the past four years?
DeChellis: Sometimes you recruit guys and you just never know what's going to happen. Did I ever say, Oh, there's the all-time leading scorer? No. Did I ever say, there's a first-team All-Big Ten player, a kid who can play in the NBA? You're talking about a kid that was 150 and 6-foot with a bunch of hair up here and running around. He had great skills and he had great heart and great competitiveness, but I don't think anybody could say I thought this guy was going to do this. I recruited Calvin Booth. I never thought he'd play in the NBA. I just never thought he'd be there in the NBA, but he played a bunch of years and made millions of dollars, so I don't think you ever look at a guy and go, here's where he's going to be, because there's just so many factors that can deter that along the way.
What's the recovery timetable for Jeff, and what is his ceiling for where he can play?
DeChellis: We're in the process of that. That was part of my waking up this morning because I've gotta get Jeff straightened out in the sense that there's some agents that want to talk to him, and those are the things basketball-wise, I'm trying to put together with him, D.J. and Drew and the other kids too. We've got some agents that all want to represent our kids, which is all a great, great thing. It's just structuring that. And, there's some guys that I want them to talk to and there's some guys that I'm not crazy about. So, I've gotta go through that kind of thing. Jeff and talking to his folks and Dr. Sebastianelli and Dr. Auckerman and Saz, we're trying to put a gameplan together, but I've gotta visit with a couple of these guys tomorrow and Friday to kind of see what the landscape is and what they suggest on their end for Jeff. It's either he rehabs his shoulder and he takes a chance or we have some surgery and we reduce those chances. But if we have surgery, then there's some things that he might not be involved with in the spring and we've gotta weigh the positives and negatives on how those will affect him and his career. So, I'm sort of dancing around with the doctors and a couple agents to see what they feel is best.
Have you still thought about Fernandez's shot and the last 16 seconds?
DeChellis: Yep. I've seen it. The tournament game was a good basketball game. Everybody tells me it was fun to watch. I haven't watched it. I haven't gone back and watched the whole thing. I've seen the shot a couple of times. I think the only regret I have in the game is that, I feel not regret for me, but for Jeff, it's his last game and he plays nine minutes. The thing I think about is it's such a fine line between winning and losing. It's such a fine line between winning a first round game, having an opportunity to play the second round game and to see how that goes, because I watched tape of San Diego State and I was kind of looking forward to that gameplan. We were never able obviously to put it together, but I feel bad for Jeff not being able to play and the other guys to see if, take all your swings. I think our kids fought, played hard, made big plays, but at the end of the day, Jeff wouldn't have played two days later. But, the game was a good game. We were up, he got in foul trouble, we knew we couldn't get in foul trouble. We did, but the kids weathered the storm and I thought we played well enough to win. I thought we really played well enough to win. We couldn't get to the free throw line. That was frustrating to me. We couldn't get the ball around the basket enough to get to the free throw line, because I thought we had to do that as well. I didn't do a good job of getting the ball to the basket and getting to the free throw line.
What do you think when you see the shot?
DeChellis: Well, it was a good shot. He just kind of dipped under. He went to his left, he's right handed, and that's a tough shot when you dip that way and shoot it that way when you're right handed. I don't know. I feel like somedays going down to Philly and saying, how many times out of ten can you make this if we did this again? But, it was a great shot for him, and as Bubby said, we'll probably see that on the video on Monday night somewhere on One Shining Moment. Then they get beat in double-overtime two days later, so they kind of felt how we felt two days earlier. It's just a bad feeling.
How special is it for the kids to be a part of the whole March experience?
DeChellis: Well, March is for miracles as I tried to explain to them coming into the thing. It's when all your dreams can be reality and you see it all the time. I think the hard part of coaching is you see the good and joy and jubilation of kids. I saw the jubilation and emotion of our Big Ten Tournament, we win some big games and then you see the opposite end of that thing when it happens to you. You see the negative emotions as well, the letdown and the sadness. That's why this is a tough game. You're up one day and down the next and it's an emotional rollercoaster. That's why I've always tried to keep it even keeled as much as you possibly can.
Is it true you're playing Kentucky next year?
DeChellis: Yeah, we are going to play Kentucky. We are playing the Wildcats.
Will you embrace the loss of Talor and the other four seniors?
DeChellis: Yeah, it's a challenge and it's opportunity for other guys. It's challenging for our coaching staff. That's why I said I'm looking forward to it. It will be fun. I gave them off this week, next week they're going to start lifting and the following week we'll start with our individuals and workouts and start to mold the team. I think that's what you try to do right away. You try to get an identity with a team, who can be a leader, who can't be a leader. I'll do some different things with them in the spring and challenge them, because we have to mold a new group. They all have opportunity to play and the opportunity to do the things they want to do in their careers as well.
Do you have those strong personalities?
DeChellis: Sometimes you just never know. I think Tim does. I think he has been a vocal guy in many ways, and some other guys, you just don't know. It's hard I think for underclassmen when we had such a strong group of seniors who had been around and two fifth-year guys, it's hard for them to exert themselves. Now I'm anxious to see when they aren't around, who kind of naturally... I'll let it go for a while and see who naturally kind of pulls everybody together. I'll say, OK, we're going to play a pickup game tomorrow at 3:15 and we'll kind of bounce around down here and see who is kind of getting guys organized. Because, before, it was the seniors and everybody kind of fell in place. Now the door is open and I know Tim Frazier will, but I want to see who else steps up.
Will it get to the point where you pull someone aside and say, this is what I need from you?
DeChellis: Yeah, we'll have those meetings throughout the spring, what's expected, what your goals are, what they need to improve as plays. But then the important part is, here's what this program needs out of you, and see if a guy can do it. Then I give him time over the summertime to see if they can do it. Saz and Brad, who really have more contact with them in the summer than I can legally, they're in on the discussion as well. It's our coaching staff, but Saz and Brad our strength coach and trainer, obviously, are very, very important to the development of our team. They are vitally important to the development of our team because they have contact with them where I can't. So, they know what we're trying to do. So they're in the staff meetings with us about who does what, what we need out of each guy and so they can talk to those guys as well.
You've looked at some JUCO guys before. Is that something you're looking at?
DeChellis: Yeah, we've tried. We were at some different places and there's not a whole lot out there that we fell in love with.
Is Sasa on target to be ready to go next fall?
DeChellis: Yes, he's on target. He's doing a good job rehabbing. He's not allowed to run yet, he's just out there shooting free throws and doing some layups right now, so there's a process, and he won't be able to play this spring at all. He won't be able to do anything competitive. He really won't be able to do individuals other than shooting. We won't let him get hit or anything like that. He still has a way to go on that knee and the last thing you want to do is go too early. Rather too late than too early with that thing.
What's the significance of both the men and women making the tournament the same year?
DeChellis: I think it's great. I think we've had a great year here athletically. The wrestling team won a national championship last week which was tremendous. Russ did what he did in the fall which was tremendous. And both the men and women made the tournament. The football team was in a major bowl. We've had a great year athletically and hopefully our spring sports will do well and I'd be remiss, I think field hockey had a great year and went to the NCAA Tournament. I think we've had a great year here at Penn State athletically overall in the fall and hopefully we'll have some more teams make the NCAA Tournament in their sports in the spring. But it was great for both of us to make the tournament. We support each other's programs very well. Our kids are down in the training room all the time and out here playing. Coquese has got a great group of girls and I think our kids, they do a great job of mixing together.
Have you talked to Kurt Kanaskie at all and do you have a feeling for the situation at Lock Haven right now?
DeChellis: He's had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. Other than that, that's where it's gone. I got a great coaching staff. Lew, Danny, Kurt, coach Nestor, and D.J. with the film, I have a great coaching staff and anytime I think when you have success, I think people will look at our guys. I'm all for helping our guys advance in their careers, whatever that may be, and not just Kurt, but Danny and Lew as well. So, when other people have an interest in our coaches, I think that's a tremendous statement for us and the staff that we have. Those guys deserve whatever accolades that come their way as well.
Is there any talk about moving to a 20-game Big Ten schedule?
DeChellis: 20 games? I think it's split among the coaches. I think some guys would say yeah, they'd rather have 20 games, some guys would say, let's just stay at 18, some guys would like to go back to 16. The problem with the 20 game schedule is, I don't think the other leagues are going to follow. The ACC is still not at 18. I don't think the other leagues will follow, so you'll continually beat yourself up. The other thing is, the guaranteed games just keep getting more expensive and more expensive from an athletic director's standpoint. You don't have to pay for more Big Ten games and I think television wants more Big Ten games on TV, meaning hopefully additional revenue. So, when we go in the spring in May, we'll sit down and hash all that stuff out, but at the end of the day, the ADs, presidents and commissioner will make the decision on how many games that we'll play.
Do you have a preference?
DeChellis: I don't have a preference. I think 18 with the way the league was structured right now was good. If they said we had to play 20, OK, let's go play 20. I don't know if a round-robin complete round-robin would be beneficial to all of us. That would be really, really hard. But if they said we had to play 20, I wouldn't jump up and down. I'd say OK.
Is everyone still going to go to the Big Ten Tournament?
DeChellis: Yeah. I haven't heard not. So, I think that we would be OK, and I'm hoping with the Big Ten schedule next year we don't have to play early in December like we did this year. I hope we can move it back. I think we've got enough time to move it back and play the first week in January rather than the 27th we played this year.
You got back in here at 6 a.m. on Friday. What did you do?
DeChellis: I went home and showered and was here at 9:30. My wife said I was out of my mind as she was headed to bed. I was up. I wasn't going to sleep. Stuff to do. Sleep when you're dead. You have all kind of time then. We had stuff to do and I couldn't sleep. You don't sleep after a win, you don't sleep after a loss. It's that time of a year. For me, it takes months. I'm hoping by May that I can start to relax somewhat and calm down and reflect on some success we've had this year, but it takes a long time.
Does this year's non-conference schedule provide a prototype?
DeChellis: Two years ago I caught a lot of grief over the non-conference schedule, and we looked at all the numbers the same way we looked at it this year. Everybody played like we had hoped they would play. We thought Duquesne would be pretty good, they were. I actually thought a team or two would be better and they weren't. It made me a little nervous at times. And we're trying to build a non-conference schedule next year and I think we've got two or three games left. We've looked at RPIs, we've looked at teams coming back, so we're trying to do the same things. I think sometimes things work out. Sometimes things don't work out. Two years ago, we had a team or two lost their point guard, ACL, threw a kid off the team for violation of team rules, and, a team we thought was good went south. So, we're trying to do the same thing. Same foot print. Ernie was up here this morning early looking at some teams' RPIs, strength of schedules, because people want to play and we want to play other people, but it's what they have coming back and how strong they're going to be, and that's why we thought it was important to play Kentucky... They'll be all right. I hope Cal can bring it. Because we're only going to play certain teams next year one time. We have four one-plays next year rather than this year we had two one-plays, and depending on who you get, it can affect your strength of schedule within your league and overall RPI, so that's something we need to be aware of as well. And we'll hopefully get those sometime in the spring and the full Big Ten schedule in August.
We didn't see Jon Graham play this year but he had a big physical change.
DeChellis: Yeah, he went from 200 something to 240. He really played well the last several weeks. Strong, tough, competitive. He's going to be good. He's going to be fine for us. Just a competitive kid. Tough, never took a day off. Busted his hump every day. He'll be fine for us. Rebounds the ball, does all the stuff he needs to do. He would have played, but I think just having a year under his belt and seeing what it was all about... he just got so much bigger and stronger. Brad has done a great job with him. I think especially for big guys, they usually take an extra year to develop, all big guys. So, I think it was really important for him.
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