Get on the Bandwagon

I was born into a Penn State family. My dad (blueband alum), aunt, and granddad are all alumni. So as a toddler, I learned very quickly at a young age that every autumn, PSU football ruled the weekends. I was 5 when that rule was forever instilled in me. It happened to be PSU’s magical 1994 season with arguably the best college football offense of all time. Obviously, I was all about anything and everything that was Penn State from that point on.

As a kid, the sport I played the most was basketball.  I had an uphill driveway, so it was impossible for me to have my own hoop, but both my neighbors had one and allowed me to play on it whenever I wanted to. My mom forbid me from playing organized football until I was in 7th grade, so I played street basketball pretty regularly with the neighbors.  I just love the game. I love football, too, as I actually played varsity football in high school, but basketball will always be my first love. If I wasn’t so short, I still tell myself I would have been a pretty good player.

So when I eventually found out that PSU had a basketball team, it was probably the happiest day of my young life at the time.  I don’t remember exactly when that was (I vaguely remember my Dad raving about Pete Lisicky), but I do remember my first ever PSU basketball game I attended.  It was the day after January 1st, 1999 (PSU had just played Tim Couch and Kentucky in the Outback bowl); a home game against Michigan.  Calvin Booth played and PSU won the game by a fair margin (70-52). I was all about screaming BOOOOOOOOTH whenever he rejected someone’s shot.  That season was when I started following the basketball program as religiously as a 4th grader could. I remember Joe Crispin’s elbow fadeaway to beat highly ranked Temple at home.  I remember how happy I was watching PSU jump out to a huge lead at home to Indiana on CBS, only to lose on a ridiculous fadeaway 3 from AJ Guyton in double OT 98-95.  I listened to every game on the radio as I could that year. Steve Jones and Frank Giardina were good times.  It’s funny, I will always remember having to go to bed during games on school nights, and I always had to be quiet while listening to the games.  That was very hard to do because PSU lost a lot of close games that year, so I was flipping out in my room during the dramatic endings. There were many upset bids that fell just short, and as a consequence, caused me to lose a few hours of sleep.

The next year I entered the 5th grade and had easily my favorite teacher ever, Mr. Scheetz. I’m still not sure whether he was my favorite teacher for being awesome or because we talked PSU basketball that whole school year.  My dad always tried to at least make an effort to keep up with the team, but Mr. Scheetz was a diehard like myself. I’m sure if I asked all my elementary school friends, they all would at least know the name, Joe Crispin. He was my childhood hero and I talked about him nonstop. I tried to be like him whenever I played ball. Now you understand the origin of my blog name, if you didn’t already know.  Anyway, this was the year my Dad and I started going to many games each year. It became an annual christmas present, tickets to 4 or 5 saturday PSU basketball games. I’ve been going to at least that many ever since 5th grade, even during these last 7 forgettable seasons.

So I don’t know if this is a good thing to admit or not, but PSU basketball has pretty much always been a pretty big part of my life. I’m sure many kids have grown up going to PSU football games all the time, but I don’t know anyone who’s followed PSU basketball like I have. Maybe that’s where I got the motivation to start this blog. Whenever I tried to talk about the latest struggles with the basketball team to people who I knew were PSU football fans, no one wanted to hear anything about it. They were either so-called Duke or UNC fans or they would just respond with PSU has a basketball program? So this team has always been kind of like my own thing for my whole life. Yeah, my dad and I went to games every year, but before games I would even have to educate him on what was going on with the team at the time.

Here we are in 2009 and Jamelle Cornley and Talor Battle are changing this program. They’re turning it into a winner and it’s freaking me out.  The only team that went to the NCAA tournament from this program since I’ve followed it was Joe Crispin’s senior year squad that went on to upset 2 seed UNC. While that team was awesome, they lost a lot of games they shouldn’t have and kept themselves in an underdog role for the whole season. They weren’t ranked during the year (only after the tournament ended), and while they had a fair share of upsets, they didn’t generate a lot of national buzz (at least, from what I remember).  But this year’s team is different. They’re 17-5 which is by far the best record I’ve ever seen from this program this far into the season. They actually EXPECT to win. The fallout from that MSU upset has been more than overwhelming to me. All of a sudden, I’m no longer hearing about the Wake Forest/Duke game on our campus, but people are actually discussing our own team. I’ve followed this program for 10 years now and each season the only PSU basketball talk I could hear was initiated by me.  That isn’t the case anymore and it’s like a whole new world to me.

A lot of my friends know my passion for the basketball program, so I get asked a lot of casual questions about our basketball team from time to time. But now I’m getting questions like “so what seed you think we could get” and “what time should I get to the game this weekend if I want good seats”. Heck, people are now telling and linking ME to basketball stories, not the other way around. A sellout in the BJC? The last time I experienced that, I was like 10 years old. I don’t know how to answer any of these new questions. I’m used to – “so do we have any chance against Michigan State?” It’s like I’m being forced to share my brand new toy, instead of having my old toy all to myself.

I guess I’m just going to have to learn to spread the PSU basketball wealth. It’s going to be tough. I couldn’t be happier for the guys who have put in the most work to get the program where it is today. But I’m already getting irritated by the ignorance of our new fans. “Why is David Jackson even on the team? He’s awful.” – Uh, he won us at least 2 games last season. “Talor Battle chokes at the foul line” – Uh, that’s why he beat Illinois last year with two free throws.  “This team is the worst foul shooting team I’ve ever seen” – Well, maybe, but I don’t need to hear this after EVERY SINGLE MISS. You can hear a collective groan in the BJC whenever someone on our team misses a foul shot. Yeah, that’s going to do a lot for their psyche.

But at least this year I don’t have to listen to people like the one BigTenGeeks encountered .

I know I’ve been ascending the soapbox quite a bit lately, and I promise to refrain from doing so in a bit here, but I’ll ask that you indulge me once more. See, yesterday as I got on the elevator, a co-worker and I struck up a conversation about the sporting event that sandwiched the Bruce Springstein concert over the weekend. After discussing what a great game it was, this individual lamented that we were now in somewhat of sports “black hole,” with nothing going on until pitchers and catchers were to report. “Heavens to Betsy,” I thought – is it possible that my obsession over college basketball is the exception, rather than the rule? I can understand the disinterest in the NBA regular season – it’s hard to expect the fans to care when the players don’t – and although I feel hockey players do try very hard, it just seems like they’re speaking another language. Not “getting” hockey is as American as apple pie (though I admit, Midwesterners do share an interest in the puck game that goes beyond the rest of the nation’s. But as a transplant, I’m afraid this escapes me). So I ask him, “Well, what’s your college team?” He replies, “Penn State.”

Oh my.

This hit me to my very core. The Nittany Lions are, of course, in the midst of their best season in nearly 20 years. They currently feature the conference’s most dynamic player, who is the runaway MVP at this point. They’re led by an undersized senior power forward who out-efforts his opponent every time he takes the floor. They’ve beaten two teams worthy of holding a top ten ranking at some point this season. And one of those wins came just two days ago. I submit that if you can’t get excited about this year’s Penn State team, you’re just not a Penn State fan. In fact, you probably need your head examined.

I had to chuckle at that story since well, it’s been an every day encounter for me for about the last 7 years. But maybe those days are gone? Hah, that’s not likely, but Talor Battle is bringing this winning attitude to this losing program, and one just has to wonder how the program is going to grow over the next 2 and a half years. Is it just a coincidence that myself and Talor Battle arrived at this fine university the same year? This team could really finish this year out strong and get some serious recruiting momentum for the future (calling Talor Battle’s brother, Taran). Could Talor Battle do the unthinkable? Could he really turn PSU into a successful basketball program? Am I going to have to share my basketball passion with the Penn State nation? He’s still got a long, long way to go, but the bandwagon’s filling up fast. The question now is, how long is this wagon going to keep going? Hopefully it’ll be alive and kicking in March.

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8 Responses to Get on the Bandwagon

  1. […] six and doesn’t look anything like the team that beat Duke 2 months ago. Penn State fans are jumping on the bandwagon while Michigan fans are trying to get […]

  2. jw says:

    I too have been ridiculed for my love of PSU hoops ever since my first game in Rec Hall in 1989, when I was coincidentally also 10 years old. I remember that it was senior night vs. Vermont and a little-used guard named Darrell Ricks went off for like 20 points. The fact that he never really scored before that game didn’t matter, he was instantly my favorite player.

    There were GREAT games in Rec Hall, but we were always the underdog, trying to knock off the big guys. It’s a different experience entirely to have a target on our collective backs.

    As much as I enjoy watching the football team, I always tell people I’m the rarest Penn Stater who actually prefers watching basketball team – which gets met by strange looks, especially from my brother and father.

    Here’s to the rest of the season and the conversion of a few more football fans!

  3. Aaron says:

    Wow. Great stories. Ever since I went to my first PSU basketball game back in my freshman year (2004), I was hooked. Even after Marlon Smith suffered that blood clot and tranferred and then Aaron Johnson left as well.

    The first great moment was my sophomore year when the Lions shocked Illinois in Assembly Hall. About 7 or 8 of us were watching in my dorm as PSU fell behind 13-0, but they didn’t give up and went into halftime down just 14. I don’t remember a huge run in the 2nd half. The Lions just slowly chipped away at the lead. Before we knew it the Illinois advantage was down to 10, 6, 4, now just 1 and Mike Walker launches an open 3. It’s off, but Travis Parker (secretly the MVP of that 2006 NIT squad) grabs the rebound for the putback and the Lions had their first lead with just seconds remaining.

    The game wasn’t over. Illnois inbounded to Dee Brown, who was immediately doubled and dished the ball to a shooter in the corner. The ball was up… and in. So close. But wait… the refs are still talking about it. We still have a chance. THE BALL IS STILL IN HIS HAND WHEN THE GLASS TURNS RED WE ARE GOING TO WIN!!!!!!

    So exciting. The rest of the teams that I root for have huge fan bases, but with PSU basketball, I’ve always been in a minority. Amazingly, more and more people are being drawn to the team, but the long-time fans (ok 5 years isn’t that long, but I remember Kevin Fellows, is that enough?) will always remember the good David Jackson and wins like that amazing night in Champagne.

    When I came to Penn State I always said I chose the school because “I liked football more than basketball” to explain my choice over Maryland and the Qunicy Douby Rutgers teams. Since then, I’ve come to love the Penn State basketball team even more than the football team. It’s a more intimate experience. I know every player’s face and it’s easy to get close to the action.

    Back in ’04, I didn’t know which sounded crazier: a Rose Bowl bid or a trip to the NCAA Tournament. We’re come a long way since then.

  4. Kevin says:

    this brought tears to my eyes. long live Penn State basketball.

  5. crispinandcream says:

    Speaking of that Illinois game…I was a junior in high school. This was before the BTN so PSU being on TV was always a big thing for me. It was a 9PM Saturday game and I was having the worst time deciding whether to just stay at home like a loser and watch PSU probably get clobbered or go out and TiVo the game. I, of course, stayed at home. It’s funny, when there was games televised that I wanted to watch, I’d turn off my cell phone so I wouldn’t have to make up excuses to not hang out with people. Watching the PSU basketball game was not a legit excuse, at least in my mind.

    So of course Illinois jumps out to a 13-0 lead, which just made me feel like the biggest loser ever, sitting at home watching this nonsense on a Saturday night. But you were right, we never really got down worse. The lead was just between 10-15 points forever. Then Geary had that reverse alley-oop and I was starting to get into the game. We actually did go on a run in that game, though. It was like a 10-0, 12-0 run. I won’t forget it because it was capped off with an offensive rebound (off a missed foul shot) kickout to Mike Walker who immediately put up the three and drained it. We tied the game at that point. I will never forget the redness of Walker’s face after he was screaming his head off. Then Dee Brown and Mike Walker traded threes and then we had the Parker put back in the lane. I literally collapsed when McBride hit what seemingly was the game winner. I’ll never forget the look on those Illinois fans faces though after they announced we won(they paid us back though the next year with that BJC stunt – I wasn’t a student yet but I was at that game alright – talk about humiliating, but then again, I think this is the only year I haven’t been humiliated by the team).

    Like Kevin said, long live PSU basketball. There’s like 500 of us diehards out there and I’m sure we all have ridiculous stories of why we have followed this program. I have so much respect for the diehards that are 30, 40 years older than me. Talk about suffering…

  6. Shawn says:

    Sounds like you guys are a couple of years younger than me but do any of you guys remember when Indiana came to Rec Hall our first year in the Big Ten? On the road, earlier that season, we lost by like 50 or 52 points to Indiana. It was horrible.
    They came into Happy Valley rated very high, I want to say #1 in the nation, and everybody thought we would get crushed. Some of the names for Indiana that I remember were Alan Henderson, Brian Evans and high school wunderkid Damien Bailey. They were stacked.
    We had Mike Joseph, Greg Bartrum, John Amaechi, Danny Earl…..
    We lost that one in double overtime on the worst call ever (Bartram whistled for arm chopping his jersey free from an Indiana defender who was stretching Bartram jersey about 3 feet behind him). Bartram had a clear path to the basket and the layup would have iced the game for us. Indiana hit some foul shots and we lost that one. It’s still a nightmare to me 16 years later!
    It’s great to see this current team doing so well. I’m so hungry for Penn State to be a perennial upper half Big Ten team. I’m hoping some other really nice players come to PSU to team up with the kid and we can keep this thing on the path we appear to be headed on.
    GO PSU HOOPS!!!!

  7. Shawn says:

    For the record, my junior year, some buddies and I camped out like 4 days before season tickets went on sale. We were second in line. Campus security came by late that first night and actually kicked us out! We tried to explain that this is what happens at big time basketball schools and they would have none of it. The next morning we drove back again to camp out and ended up like 13th in line. UGGGGHHHHHH! We still got really nice seats for that last season in Rec Hall (2nd row mid court). It’s still funny to think that those idiots on campus securit actually made us leave. Plus, we must have been total wusses to have not stayed.
    Kudos for creating this site for those of us who actually care much more about PSU Hoops than PSU Football. I’ve really been enjoying it.
    Another “old” memory from the early to mid 90’s. I remember selling my football tix every once in a while. I never sold my PSU basketball tix!
    Go PSU HOOPS!!!!

  8. crispinandcream says:

    Great stories, Shawn. I know the story behind that IU travesty and Sam Lickliter’s call. I actually watched it when ESPN Classic aired a few years ago. It was before my time though. In fact, the whole Rec Hall era was before my time, which makes me sad. That place probably had some awesome atmospheres.

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