After a 15-16 season in which stars went down, youth was exposed, and potential was revealed, Ed DeChellis and his young Nittany Lions basketball team are doing the dirty work in the offseason that may ultimately lead to, as Borat Sagdiev calls it, “Great Success.”
With a hungry sophomore class led by Talor Battle, David Jackson, Andrew Jones, and Jeff Brooks, complemented by a nice dose of veteran leadership from seniors Jamelle Cornley (2007 Big Ten Honorable Mention), Danny Morrissey, and the lightning-quick Stanley Pringle, Penn State, who finished seventh in the Big 10 last year, looks to build off a promising season.
DeChellis, while inspiring his team to pull off some improbable, court-rushing home victories over two ranked opponents, Michigan State and Indiana, in the final month of the 2007-08 season, also remained thoroughly focused on searching for talent across the country.
After a heartbreaking 65-64 loss at the hands of a veteran Illinois team, in which Penn State’s lineup of five first-year players threw together a 10-0 run in the final minutes to take a lead with seven seconds left, the young Lions received a nice bit of news.
Chris Babb, a 6'5" sharpshooter out of Arlington, Texas, who averaged 33 points per game in his senior year, had committed to play for coach DeChellis.
Along with the Letter of Intent from Babb, Penn State inked another 6'5" guard, Cam Woodyard (20.5 ppg - Westminster, MD), an underrated player who led his Winters Mill HS squad to an unexpected Class 2A Maryland state championship.
Woodyard earned tournament MVP honors, as he was instrumental in victories over two highly favored opponents in his team’s final two postseason games.
Also, DeChellis and his staff brought in Andrew Ott, a 6'8" forward who played for Jay Wright at Villanova last season as a redshirt freshman. Billy Oliver (Chatham, NJ) also committed in the early signing period.
More importantly, however, the program was faced with a dilemma when assistant coach Hillary Scott, who has coached with DeChellis for nearly 10 years both at Penn State and East Tennessee State, chose to take the head coaching position at Division III Lynchburg College in Virginia.
The sudden departure of Scott, who was a major recruiter for the program over the past few years, came as a surprise to many players, especially Jamelle Cornley.
Cornley, who is coming off a nagging knee injury suffered at the beginning of last season that he played through until March, expressed his concern about a replacement.
However, close to a week later, an eye-opening hire made basketball fans happy again in the Valley. Lewis Preston, a former assistant coach under Mike Brey at Notre Dame and under Billy Donovan at the University of Florida, chose to take the offer to coach with Ed DeChellis at Penn State.
Preston, who was a major part of the Florida hoops program's back-to-back national titles, made a surprising decision to leave a powerhouse program to join, well, one that has been less than stellar, to say the least, since the Sweet 16 appearance in 2001.
"We are very excited to welcome Lewis to Penn State and our coaching staff," DeChellis said. "He is an outstanding young coach and a very highly regarded national recruiter with a terrific background in basketball as both a coach and a player. We think he is really a perfect fit with our players and staff and are looking forward to having him join our basketball family."
The pieces are falling into place for Penn State.
November may seem distant. After all, the Lions have only officially scheduled games at Georgia Tech (Big 10-ACC Challenge), at home against Temple, a team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament out of the A-10 last year, and a spot in the Philly Classic, an eight-team tournament with solid participants in Villanova, Rhode Island and Niagara.
Regardless, the Nittany Lions are working hard to take the best, most logical steps possible to make Penn State basketball attractive to recruits again, and to put a squad on the floor with the best chance possible to make noise in a solid Big Ten Conference.