November 13, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Patrick Chambers believes his Penn State basketball program is about to take a turn toward respectability.

And that turn, he says, doesn't have to be all that sharp. The Nittany Lions went 16-18 last season (6-12 Big Ten); they were 5-7 in games decided by five points or fewer.

Beginning his fourth season with Penn State, Chambers' three previous teams have won just 12 of 54 Big Ten Conference games and 38 of 97 games overall.

But four returning starters and a different approach to coaching that holds players more accountable has Chambers confident that his overall plan is working, despite no true point guard.

''I think they have a great understanding of what our approach is in practice and our approach is in games and our approach is for anything we do,'' Chambers said. ''And that takes a long time to put together. But it's getting there.''

Chambers wants it to get there behind an offense led by D.J. Newbill, last year's leading scorer. Newbill is a true shooting guard but likely will handle the point until either freshmen Isiah Washington and Shep Garner or junior college transfer Devin Foster can assume the position.

''Coach is going to put me in the best position he thinks is best for the team,'' Newbill said. ''We have a group of veteran guys. When I'm at point, they help me out a lot. I think it's going to be all right. I'm very comfortable.''

Chambers said competition for the two spot is among returnees Geno Thorpe and John Johnson and redshirt freshman Payton Banks.

Forwards Ross Travis (8.4 points per game), Brandon Taylor (9.2) and Donovon Jack (6.2) as well as 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson (1.5) bring back extensive experience to the Lions' frontcourt.

Travis led the team in rebounds last season.

Here are five things to watch from Penn State this season:

A 3-POINT DILEMMA: The Lions shot just 32 percent from 3-point range last season. ''It's been an issue for three years,'' Chambers said. ''We were a very good defensive team last year and we were a very good rebounding team. I'm picking the best five guys whether they are a great 3-point shooter or not.''

MISTAKES WILL HAPPEN: Penn State last year committed nearly 11 turnovers per game. Chambers is prepared to deal with that. ''This team has a really good IQ; they're picking things up really quickly,'' he said. ''With saying that, they're going to turn the ball over. There are going to be mistakes.''

FOLLOW THE LEADER: Chambers hasn't changed his self-proclaimed intense style, but he has eased up. ''It's been invaluable to learn on the job this way,'' he said. ''I have a leadership council. They're starting to take the keys to the car and they're the ones demanding that guys get things done, that guys are accountable. For me, that's part of the process of becoming a better program and a better team.''

LEADERS TO FOLLOW: Players participated over the summer in a leadership development and team-building system conducted by former Marines. ''Leaders had to step up and each time we had a different segment with the program, someone had to lead the team,'' Thorpe said. ''It was all about getting comfortable being uncomfortable.''

GROWING A DEPTH CHART: Chambers said he's not opposed to using 10 players if possible. ''We need to play them 28 to 33 minutes and I think you're fresher as you go along,'' he said. ''I'd rather have four guys averaging 10 than Newbill just averaging 20. I think we're at a talent level where it could be a different guy every night (to lead in scoring). When you do that, you're a pretty good basketball team.''

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