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.”
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.